“With Mistress America, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have created a precise portrait of a woman who embodies the ephemeral essence of a do-it-all, self-entitled millennial without dispensing any blanket, generational theses,” writes Sarah Salovaara at Filmmaker. “This character, however, is not the film’s purported protagonist—that would be 18-year-old aspiring writer Tracy, played by a nicely understated Lola Kirke—but her careening would-be step-sister Brooke, whom Gerwig relishes as a go-for-broke exercise in deluded megalomania.”
“They’re perfect foils,” declares David Ehrlich at Time Out. “Tracy is paralyzed by the choices offered by her new life in the big city, and Brooke—a restauranteur-designer-musician-SoulCycle instructor who’s sustained by the sheer inertia of her schemes—has seemingly made all of those choices at once. The siblings-to-be get into a whirlwind of misadventure, and Tracy starts writing a story about Brooke (called ‘Mistress America’). Eventually the film drops its anchor at a Connecticut mansion, setting the stage for one of the great comic set-pieces this side of Billy Wilder.”
It’s here that “Mistress America goes full-bore screwball, and the overexertion that had previously felt slightly off suddenly works in the movie’s favor,” finds Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “I was taken by surprise, suddenly realizing over halfway through, ‘Oh, it’s a bedroom farce with no bedroom.'” And for Noel Murray, Mistress America “brings back the hopefulness of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha, without the sour turns and forced plottiness of the as-yet-unreleased While We’re Young. It’s a little uneven—the first half’s like a vibrant short film, the second’s like a fast-paced drawing-room farce—but it’s funny throughout.”
“The Connecticut scenes are like mid-period Pedro Almodóvar crashing the dinner-party scene in a Luis Buñuel movie,” suggests Wesley Morris at Grantland. “I’ve wondered how Buñuel’s delicate knocks and broad surrealist swings would play in an American context. This passage feels like an accurate rendering.”
“It’s kind of exciting to see the filmmakers try their hands at such a broad, formally playful comedic form,” writes the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “but their fledgling stab is uneven: Not all of the actors seem in the same register, and scenes often take on the distinct feel of an awkward community-theater production. I remain grateful that Baumbach and Gerwig found each other, and that they’re bringing such a winning spirit to American comedy. I also hope that their next joint effort is closer in spirit to their first one.”
Variety‘s Scott Foundas: “If nothing else, Mistress America confirms Gerwig as one of the great, fearless screen comediennes of her generation—a tall, loose-limbed whirligig who careers through scenes with the beatific ditziness of a Carole Lombard or Judy Holliday.”
More from Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix), Jack Giroux (Film Stage, B+), Tim Grierson (Screen), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, B+), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed).
Update, 2/1: “Baumbach writes crackling, witty dialogue,” grants Sam Fragoso at RogerEbert.com. “But there’s little else to grapple with here. Unlike Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale, there’s little sense that we’re watching people on screen—just sketches; scenarios with thinly drawn characters.”