Three days ago I reiterated what feels to me like an absolute certainty, which is that Greta Gerwig — star, producer and co-writer (with director and boyfriend Noah Baumbach) of Mistress America (Fox Searchlight, 8.14) — is radiating a fairly unique comic attitude, which led me to describe her as “a 21st Century Carole Lombard.” A “funnier, flakier and taller Lena Dunham” without the chubs, I added. Gerwig is not a finely honed performer as much as an unbridled force, and that force has produced a kind of acting and writing that to my mind is breaking fresh ground. She’s creating a new kind of comedic personality — “unfocused” and yet laser-focused on whatever thought or current or insight may pop into her head and, with some exceptions, mostly unconcerned with how it may be received. She’s a nouveau screwball — an oddly charming mixture of absolute certainty, anxiety, exuberance and vulnerability.
A few days earlier I said that my initial analogy for Mistress America, which I came up with when I saw it seven months ago in Sundance, “was His Girl Friday. Which wasn’t quite right. It’s not as formulaic as that 1940 farce, which of course is a remake of The Front Page. Mistress America is more like Holiday meets My Man Godfrey meets The Twentieth Century without the train or any slamming doors.”
This morning Intelligent Life‘s Tom Shone expressed similar impressions. Here’s an edited excerpt: “Gerwig has had same liberating effect for Noah Baumbach what Diane Keaton had for Woody Allen: she has opened him up, lending his films a giddy sense of release. Frances Ha, Baumbach’s first film with Gerwig in 2012, about a young woman trying to find her footing in Manhattan, inhaled deeply of the French nouvelle vague — with it’s black and white cinematography, Georges Delerue on the soundtrack — and outlined in sketch form, a new type of screen heroine, a sort of Annie Hall for millenials: absent-minded, free-spirited and a little dizzy, half in love with her own failures, lolloping from one humiliation to the next as if they confirmed her refusal to join the adult world.
“Mistress America fills out the sketch, and adds a spirit of screwball farce — Howard Hawks for the sexting set. There’s a still a hint of menace at the edges, but Gerwig’s loopy spirit has been allowed to fashion a whole world for her heroine, and the result is more of a piece — it hums and fizzes with the fitful energies of twentysomethings pushing excitedly forward into the world and holding back lest it take a bite out of them. Gerwig gives us a ditz in the manner of Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday but viewed with a touch more sad-sack pitilessness. Dressed in clothes that resemble a child’s raid on her aunts closet, Brooke seems permanently stuck at 21, too busy taking mental selfies of herself having eureka! moments to follow-through on any one of them.
“An interior designer who also dabbles in Soul-Cycle classes, she nurses plans for a Williamsburg restaurant called Moms, where she would also cut hair and teach cookery. Oh and it would also function as a community centre for like-minded lost souls. All this is delivered in a breathless tumble, with lots of waving as if she forgotten she had hands or where she last put them. ‘I’m gonna shorten that, punch it up, and turn it into a tweet’, she says, crossing the street, but even a tweet sounds beyond her — requiring too much follow-through.'” (Here’s Shone’s entire piece.)