"All Romance and Failure": a Review of Noah Baumbach's and Greta Gerwig's Mistress America
Aside from the screwball influence, how does Mistress America work? Why is it so good? When one thinks back to Gerwig's and Baumbach's previous association--Frances Ha (2012), one can point to its black and white cinematography, its portrait of a 20-something creative woman, Frances (Gerwig) going in circles, visiting Paris hopelessly, suffering jet lag, and not meeting anyone. She also visits her parents in California, and in another wickedly succinct montage, one learns that she enjoys visiting them, but the sheer repetitive pleasures of being back at home give the impression that she's merely treading water. Frances returns to her alma-mater, Vassar, to the same pointless effect. The overall hopeless poignance of her life, and what one can affirm of it--her relationship to her friend Sophie, her artistic aspirations as a dance choreographer--leaves one with a sense of deeply felt humanity intermingled with futility. Even the title with its chopped off name Ha implies an element of ridicule, as in "Ha!" that lampoons everything she attempts in the movie.
Somehow within the farcical humor, Baumbach and Gerwig provide insights into postmodern life that resonate. Even as New York proves a place only for the rich, the movie still celebrates the city, just as the movie diagnoses Brooke's malaise as she brings the movie to life. As Brooke says:
Tracy replies, "I think I have that too." These flashes of recognition amidst the general distracted despair, the mix of wit and desolation, what Tracy calls Brooke's "romance and failure," gives the movie's humor its unexpected edge.