If you love the films of Noah Baumbach, you love them with the desperate urgency of a friend you want to shake. His characters, from Jeff Daniels’ narcissist father in “The Squid and the Whale” to Nicole Kidman’s bitter short story writer in “Margot at the Wedding,” are all frittered edges and vanishing hopes.
But along came Greta Gerwig, a graduate of the mumblecore school of filmmaking, who shined light and whimsy onto Baumbach’s cinematic world. They’ve now written two films together, “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America,” out this week from Fox Searchlight, and are romantic partners, too.
The easy-breezy screwball comedy “Mistress America,” Baumbach’s mostly tightly calibrated universe yet, stars Gerwig as Brooke, a flighty, flaky hustler who lives in a commercial building in Times Square, dreams of opening a restaurant and is better at being a character in a book than a person in real life.
Brooke is, as I suggest in our video interview below, like Holly Golightly before she became Holly Golightly. We all know somebody like this, or perhaps we are this person.
Tracy (Lola Kirke), her soon-to-be stepsister and a freshman writing
major at Bard, picks up on this immediately, using Brooke’s fatuous
lifestyle, and the quiet desperation humming below it, as inspiration
for a story she submits to the college literary society.
Gerwig and I met in a sunny room at the London Hotel in Los Angeles, where she told me all about “Mistress America,” how she works with Baumbach and how they choreographed the film’s center set piece, a big long scene in a Connecticut mansion that’s worthy of the Marx Brothers in the way people shuffle in and out of rooms, and also of Jacques Tati in that everybody moves daffily in tandem.
Gerwig also teases her upcoming directorial effort “Lady Bird,” set in her hometown of Sacramento, and her role in Todd Solondz’s “Wiener-Dog,” a sort-of loosely strung sequel to “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” She adores cinematographer Ed Lachman, worships Tennessee Williams and knows more about screwball comedies than you do.
(Excuse the precarious angle, as Gerwig and her team and I struggled to mount the camera on a canvas chair in the room.)
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