What happened is that the Fox Searchlight guys un-scheduled me for a Mistress America interview with Greta Gerwig, and then yesterday I forgot it was Friday (possibly a subconscious reaction to my feelings being a bit hurt?) so I didn’t attend last night’s Sundance NEXT screening at the Ace Hotel. But that was okay because I’ve seen Mistress America twice now, and I’m convinced it’s one of the most original, high-energy screwball comedies I’ve ever seen. And very much a woman’s thing. Someday the New Beverly will play it on a double bill with Trainwreck, another high-wire act with the stamp of a gifted comedienne. Mistress America opens on 8.14.
Directed by Noah Baumbach but for the most part imprinted with Gerwig’s personality (she stars, co-wrote and is one of the producers), Mistress America takes the screwball genre, which was hatched in the 1930s, and reconfigures and re-energizes it according to 21st Century currents and attitudes, and gives it a New York mood. I haven’t seen Peter Bogdanovich‘s She’s Funny That Way (Lionsgate, 8.21), but my understanding is that it’s also an attempt to reanimate screwball in 2015 terms, and that it’s not as successful. (Mistress America has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 88% compared to 36% for the Bogdanovich.)
Mistress America takes a little while to catch a groove (10 or 12 minutes?), but once it does you know right away you’ll want to see it twice because you’re not going to be able to savor all the good stuff because of the fast pace and manic tone. It’s very well-written in the manner of neurotic anxious ambition, and the analogy 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. And without any slamming doors.
It’s basically a relationship farce about Gerwig’s Brooke, a 30something would-be restaurateur with energy scattered every which way, and Lola Kirke‘s Tracy, a gifted writer around 20 who starts hanging with Brooke because their parents are about to get married. The plot can be summarized by the old Joan Didion line that “writers are always selling somebody out.” Gerwig has a great speech about how desperately wanting your life to come together in the right way can start to feel like an increasingly heavy burden if the dream isn’t happening by your early 30s, and then your whole life, it seems, is about that feeling of unsatisfied want and how it gets worse and worse. I remember that feeling.