Film (You Really Didn't Think You Wanted To See) Of The Week

Director Noah Baumbach delivers zany existential enquiry – in 84 minutes

Noah Baumbach and his collaborator in both work and lurrrrve, Greta Gerwig, are a formidable double act. They co-wrote, he directed and she starred in his acclaimed 2013 comedy drama Frances Ha, and they’ve teamed up in the same roles for this month’s Mistress America.

In some ways it covers similar ground: Gerwig plays Brooke, a kooky twentysomething New Yorker whose joie de vivre is as infectious as her bank account is near to empty. This time, we see her through the eyes of a young admirer, Tracy (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls star Jemima), a college student whose mother is due to marry Brooke’s father and who finds herself in need of a friend in the big city.

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Brooke provides the inspiration Tracy is looking for — a generational switch-up of the dynamic in Baumbach’s excellent last film, While We’re Young (2014) — so much so that she starts cannibalising Brooke’s life in a short story from which the film takes its title.

There’s a sneaking guilt when watching a Baumbach film that maybe you should be watching movies with more important concerns; the malaise of privileged youngish people doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But then they’re so much fun. Mistress America is a whistle-stop romp that combines gentle philosophical questioning with quick-fire badinage (that you might not totally get but sounds neat, such as: “Marrying Mamie-Claire is like buying a cashmere sweater from Old Navy”).

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While Frances Ha nodded to François Truffaut and the French New Wave, Mistress goes for John Hughes and Eighties coming-of-age flicks (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Toto are on the soundtrack) and like, say, The Breakfast Club (1985), manages to be both witty and wistful.

It’s ironic that a film about stymied ambition is made by a highly productive director whose last film came out just five months ago. And given that he’s also got the self-discipline to bring it in at under 90 minutes, you know you’ve got a mind whose understanding of his protagonists’ concerns is, these days at least, largely academic.

Mistress America is out on 14 August

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