Mistress America

 

            Have you ever encountered one of those human dynamos whose very force of personality makes you want to be around them, even though they might make you feel inadequate, jealous, and slightly off your own game?  But their light shined so brightly that you just wanted to bask in the reflective glow?

            Lola Kirke plays Tracy, a college freshman in Barnard, who thinks of herself as a writer, but didn't make it into the prestigious literary club.  Her roommate is completely rude to her, and she's made all of one friend, Tony (Matthew Shear), a geek down the hall who also didn't make the literary club.  They seem to have maybe made a connection, until Tracy spots him walking across campus holding hands with another girl.  Later he tells her that she was too intimidating for him.

            Actually, what she feels right now is just plain lonely.  Her Mother, about to be married to a guy she met online, encourages Tracy to look up her fiancee's daughter, Brooke.  Desperate for some kind of personal connection somewhere, Tracy agrees to meet Brooke in the middle of Times Square.

            Greta Gerwig plays a brash, lively, vivacious Brooke, a thirty-something New York City girl who has become notable for, well....nothing in particular.  She brags about never having gone to college.  She works as a fitness trainer in a group exercise class, sometimes, when she does work.  She'll occasionally dance on stage for a band where she knows the bass player.  Tracy is both impressed and overwhelmed by her soon-to-be-stepsister.  But it turns out that Brooke is not so perfect, either.

            She used to have a boyfriend, who agreed to invest money in her restaurant idea, but now she's scrambling because the other investors have suddenly pulled out, and she's caught with rent she can't pay and start-up supplies she can't afford.  She claims she had a great idea for a t-shirt line, but a former friend stole both her idea and her fiancee.  She finds herself locked out of her apartment because she's not current on her rent, which forces her to climb the fire escape and climb in through the window.  While Tracy and Brooke are at a bar, Brooke is confronted by a former high school classmate who claims Brooke was abusively mean to her.  Brooke shrugs her off, saying it's time to get over all that.

            The middle part of the film takes a left turn.  Brooke drags Tracy and friends to the house in the suburbs of her former fiancee, now married to her former best friend, in order to ask for money for her restaurant venture.  The other characters in the house—a neighbor, a pregnancy support group member, a maid----form some a sort of subplot of people who together turn on Tracy, once they find out she's written a story exposing Brooke's flaws (entitled “Mistress America”), calling Brooke a sad and tragic figure unaware of her own fatal flaws.

            Strangely, the movie perks back up when, much later, Brooke and Tracy reconcile, this time on much more equal terms.  And now, even though their respective parents have broken off the engagement, the would-be stepsisters find themselves to be emotional soul sisters in a way they both could use.

            Yes, it's an uneven comedy.  Sometimes the rapid-fire one-liners feel like a skit rehearsal on fast-forward.  The humor is occasionally starkly scatalogical (which is supposed to be funny, but not after several awkward attempts).  But the main characters are people we can empathize with:  a little talented, a little lost, sometimes confident, other times awkward, and not at all certain how to finally get comfortable in their own skins. 

 

Questions For Discussion: 

1)                  Have you ever met one of those “force of nature” personalities?  How did you respond to them?

2)                  Do you think that deep friendships are possible with extended family members?

3)                  Have you experienced watching mentors exhibit feet of clay?  How did that change your perspective of them?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas