A witty and endearing sister comedy
A ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ was a term coined (and since abandoned) by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007. It refers to a stock character type; a female character who is bubbly and quirky, who enters the life of a brooding, serious male to help him embrace the joys and wonderment of life. (See Kristen Dunst in Elizabethtown, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Zooey Deschanel in practically every movie.) Typically, though not in every case, the MPDG is shown through the eyes of the male character (known as the Male Gaze) who idealises her, lusting after her and placing her on a pedestal. What’s interesting, and truly refreshing about Mistress America is that some of the MPDG and her narrative ways are on display whilst also being subverted and questioned. This film is the story of a hipster-sect but told with old-fashioned sophistication; an honest look at the complexities between worship and reality. But instead of a traditional romance the focus is on friendship.
Tracy Fishcoe (Lola Kirke) is an 18-year-old college freshman undertaking her first semester in New York. She’s not enjoying it. It’s not what she had expected, feeling like she doesn’t fit in. In fact her life feels like she’s at a party where she ‘doesn’t no anyone.’ She gets rejected by a boy, then rejected for an elite writing society and every attempt she makes to try and fit in becomes just another knock-back. Her soon-to-be-remarried mother suggests Tracy call her Brooke (Greta Gerwig) as this marriage will make the pair step-sisters. Brooke also lives in New York, but Tracy is too intimated to make the phonecall, believing this woman 14-year her senior would not want anything to do with her. However one lonely dinner -time she takes the chance to call Brooke, who instantly agrees to meet her. They enjoy a crazy night-out together, and continue to meet-up. When Brooke’s restaurant dreams start to fall through, Tracy endeavours to help the woman she now views as a sister.
In many ways Brooke meets a lot of the criteria of a MPDG, she’s the life and soul of every party. She knows everyone, appears able to do anything, and is keen to immerse Tracy in her world. Brooke even has a ‘quirky’ habit, appearing to not listen to other people so conservations with her sound disjointed.Even after meeting Brooke just the once Tracy is inspired to writer new short story, about thinly veiled version of Brooke. If this film wanted to be conventional or typical, it could have stayed this way. Brooke could have just stayed as Tracy’s muse, whose pure function is to inspire and guide her (an aspect that is mentioned within the latter half of the film). What’s so clever and makes the film so heart-warming is it isn’t just about that. It’s about friendship and sisterhood. It’s about how life doesn’t always meet up to it’s expectations and isn’t always as easy as it appears to other people. It’s the act of putting on a smile whilst inside you’re terrified.
When you’re 18 you’re certain that by the time you’re 30 everything will be sorted. That you’ll know everything, have everything and life will be sorted. Mistress America shows that really doesn’t happen, but that’s not a bad thing.