In the last five years alone, Noah Baumbach has made three films with Greta Gerwig and they just seem to get better and better. 2012’s Frances Ha was such a wonderful film that I would have never thought that their next collaboration would be able to match it, but, somehow, Mistress America is just as good, if not better. It’s a zany, screwball comedy with an eclectic cast of characters and a warm heart at its center. It’s easily the funniest film to come out so far in 2015 and also one of the year’s very best.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a freshman in college who just can’t seem to fit in. She’s rejected by the prestigious writing club that she desperately wanted to join and her only friend, Tony (Matthew Shear), is now spending time with his new girlfriend. Desperate for some excitement in her life, her mother encourages her to get in touch with Brooke (Greta Gerwig), her soon to be step-sister. Brooke is a free-spirit, full of ideas but lacking the ability to turn any of them into a worthwhile project. She describes herself as a writer, claims to work as an interior designer, teaches spin class and wants to open a restaurant/store/hair-salon hybrid. Tracy can’t resist using her as an inspiration to write and when a psychic tells Brooke that she needs to revisit someone from her past, Tracy eggs her on, hoping to turn her life experiences into a great story.

First and foremost, Mistress America is a comedy and, in that regard, it’s a rousing success. It comes as no surprise that Gerwig is amazing in this, but she remains as energetic and charming as ever. The real surprise here, though, is Lola Kirke who more than holds her own next to the more experienced Gerwig. The two actresses have excellent, believable chemistry together and the fact that we can relate to each of them in different ways only adds to the laughs. In fact, nearly every character in the film is fully realized and they all receive great comedic moments to shine in. Whether it’s Tony being torn between Tracy and his girlfriend or Brooke’s past boyfriend Dylan (Michael Chernus) clearly still showing some very obvious affection towards her, these are characters that feel like they exist beyond the page of the excellent screenplay by Baumbach and Gerwig.

And the third act of their screenplay culminates into one of the best comedic set pieces in ages. As Brooke, Tracy and her friends follow the advice of a psychic, they barge into the home of Dylan and his wife Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) and what follows is 20-30 minutes of comedic bliss. It’s such a densely written sequence, because every single character has some sort of separate arc here and the main plot continues to push forward. Characters are interacting with one another in really interesting ways and a lot of the laughs come from each character doing a different thing but continuing to cross paths with one another within the same sequence. Even the minor characters in the scene have fantastic moments, including Karen (Cindy Cheung), a pregnant woman who keeps getting offered alcohol while she waits for her husband to pick her up and Harold (Dean Wareham), a disgruntled neighbor who invites himself inside and gives himself a tour of the house. The dialogue here is fast-paced, but it’s never too much for the performers to keep up with. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this sequence had such consistently funny laughs that I actually had tears in my eyes at one point.

Mistress America may hit some familiar narrative beats and it comes in at a disappointingly short 84 minutes, but it’s better to leave audiences wanting more than to have a film overstay its welcome. It features big laughs and a great soundtrack, but it’s ultimately the characters that make the film so heartwarming. Brooke is a mess – there’s no denying that – but sometimes it’s better to be a mess than to be boring. Just like a lot of people in America, she’s overly ambitious without a genuine plan or skills to back any of her dreams up. But it’s those dreams and that endless optimism that makes her character so endearing. Just like Tracy, we know that Brooke won’t be successful with every one of her ventures, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to watch her try.

Mistress America receives 3.5/4

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