A closer look at… Mistress America

© 20th Century Fox, 2015
© 20th Century Fox, 2015

Mistress America is rated 15 for very strong language, strong sex references. The film is available to rent or buy on Amazon Instant Video.

The Scoop – A funny and insightful screwball comedy about growing up and knowing who you are.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is struggling to settle into college in New York. Nobody wants to be her friend, the Literary Society don’t want her as a member, and the boy she likes would rather be with someone else. So on impulse, she calls the only other person she knows in town: Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who is set to become Tracy’s stepsister when her mother remarries in the summer.

Though she’s hardly any older than Tracy, Brooke seems to occupy a whole other world, full of exciting possibilities. A friendship with Brooke – self-mythologiser, over-sharer, enormous fun, and quite possibly an enormous fake – will be unlike any other.

Our Take

I’m completely biased: I was primed to love Mistress America from the off, having laughed and cried my way through Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s previous collaboration, Frances Ha. I over-identify with that film’s titular heroine – her big creative dreams, her Millennial anxiety, her awkwardness, and the intense friendships at the heart of her life. Brooke in Mistress America shares some of Frances’s DNA, but she’s a different and equally captivating creation.

It’s not often that a comedienne (or indeed any actress) gets the opportunity Gerwig has here to get her teeth into such a fully formed, fully flawed lead character. And it’s Brooke, ‘all romance and failure’, who you’ll probably be talking about when you come away from this film. Her creators are kind enough to let this flighty, charismatic, somewhat delusional person be an inspiration as well as a warning.

© 20th Century Fox, 2015
© 20th Century Fox, 2015

Dig Deeper

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why, or why not? If you have seen any of director Noah Baumbach’s previous work, or his previous collaborations with Greta Gerwig, how does Mistress America compare?
  • What did you make of Tracy, and her approach to college life when we first meet her? Could you identify with any of her struggles? What do you think draws her to Brooke?
  • How did you feel about Brooke during her early scenes with Tracy? Is she somebody you would want to spend time with in real life? Would you call her ‘genuine’, and why or why not? Did your response to her change throughout the film?

She did everything, and nothing, and spent time like I always mean to: purposefully. – Tracy

© 20th Century Fox, 2015
© 20th Century Fox, 2015
  • What does Mistress America have to say about the way we form our identity, especially when we’re young? How does Tracy come to a more secure sense of her own identity towards the end of the film?
  • Why do you think Brooke (and later Tracy) visits a psychic? What might be appealing about getting this kind of direction and guidance in life? Where else might people in our society look for this?
  • Do you think Tracy was wrong to use Brooke as ‘material’ for her story? What might be some of the ethical considerations for any artist drawing inspiration from real life? In what other ways might we be tempted to ‘use people’ in our friendships?

‘I worry that I’m a bad person. One of those people who essentially has no conscience.’- Tracy

© 20th Century Fox, 2015
© 20th Century Fox, 2015
  • Do you think that romantic relationships are generally given more importance than friendships (especially women’s friendships) on film? Did the portrayal of friendship in Mistress America ring true for you? How might friendships be just as intense, painful or enriching as romantic relationships in our lives?
  • How do we go about choosing our path and purpose in life? To what degree is this something that we have control over? What happens if things don’t work out the way we planned?

‘I can’t figure out how to make myself work in the world.’ – Brooke

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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