Sunday, 30 August 2015

REVIEW - MISTRESS AMERICA (NOAH BAUMBACH)


A look inside a generation, or a subset within a generation, from two insiders. You know you're getting the real deal when those insiders are as incisive as Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are, though for all the sense they infuse into their subjectivity, Mistress America is perhaps too sensitive to truly formulate a cohesive idea of what that generation represents. The film is a broad portrait with a fine touch, and too certain of its strengths as such to identify any of the weaknesses in itself that it finds, exploits and embraces in its characters. It's that embrace that brings Mistress America down, as it eventually betrays the coarseness that made its knife-edge dance of character development tolerable. Baumbach and Gerwig love these people, even as they encourage us to loathe them, and that bestows upon Mistress America a generous empathy that the actors run with, alongside a slight sycophancy mixed with superiority that, frankly, ought to be expected. The film's flaws are hard to forgive, in retrospect, since they emerge fully formed only toward its closing passage - until this point, it's a rather delightful, acerbic portrait of lost souls seemingly determined on never being found, forget about actually finding themselves. That knife-edge between astute and obnoxious is largely traversed with admirable precision, particularly in a variety of strong, perceptive performances; Gerwig is especially good at incorporating the comedic elements of her writing into the integral fabric of her character, and while the result may be too subtle for some, it's pretty super for the rest of us. That's the kind of detail that both invigorates Mistress America and somewhat spoils it - an obsessive intelligence on the behalf of its insider filmmakers.