Nolan and Bale, Greengrass and Damon, Scorsese and DiCaprio, McQueen and Fassbender - we've seen some great partnerships forged between directors and actors over the past decade. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig also deserve their place on that honour roll. Their first film together was Greenberg; they followed it up with critic favourite Frances Ha and now they give us coming-of-age comedy Mistress America. August is a pretty lean month for cerebral fare in cinemas, but there's plenty to savour here.
In a real breakout performance similar to Gerwig's in Greenberg, Lola Kirke plays Tracy, a bookish freshman adrift in New York. She can't motivate herself, can't make friends and her love life is a disaster. Tracy's mother is soon to marry a widower, and mom suggests she get in touch with her stepfather-to-be's daughter, longtime Big Apple resident Brooke (Gerwig). Tracy is reluctant because Brooke is, like, 30 and, when she finally makes the call, chickens out and hangs up. Brooke rings back, and so begins an adventure that will change both women's lives.
There's a great saying that friendship is when you know a lot about someone and still like them, and it comes to mind watching Mistress America, a film that also has plenty to say about mistakes made and opportunities grasped. As witty as Baumbach and Gerwig's script is, it's also very poignant, the bittersweet feeling heightened by a gorgeous Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips score and the inclusion of OMD's Souvenir on the soundtrack. You'll think of your own lost weekends and their playlists while watching.
The chemistry between Kirke and Gerwig is excellent, with the relationship dynamics feeling very true to life. Their characters are, if anything, 'endearritating'; they'll wind you up aplenty but you still want the best for them. A lot like pals, really.
As a director, Baumbach revels in depicting the messiness of adult life, and you'll realise your own isn't quite as much of a disaster while at the same time swallowing a good dose of the best medicine: laughter. There's one particular scene that's shot through with such screwball genius and incredible comic timing that it warrants repeated viewings. The supporting cast are all excellent.
Mistress America's ending is a little too rushed - the film is only 84 minutes - but, really, that's the only cheating here.