Greta Gerwig, indie movie princess, makes films about women that are romantic—and not in the standard sappy way. They romanticize the idea of being a woman, and how friendships and fumbles through life are sometimes more exciting and more endearing than any story about meeting a man and falling love. She did this with 2011's Damsels in Distress. She did it again with her story of friendship in 2013's Frances Ha, which she co-wrote with her partner, director Noah Baumbach. The film earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical.
Now, she returns with Mistress America, out this Friday, Aug. 17. Again, she teamed up with Baumbach to co-write the movie; she stars, he directs. Here, her witty, intelligent humor is on full display. (You'll laugh. Out loud. Trust us!) Gerwig plays Brooke, the wild soul-searching older step-sister-to-be of Tracy Fishko (played by Lola Kirke), a lonely lit-obsessed freshman at college in New York City who seeks out Brooke to be her friend. Tracy gets sucked into Brooke's gravitational orbit and follows her around the city, indulging Brooke in all of her crazy antics, from classes at SoulCycle to crawling up fire escapes in order to get into Brooke's padlocked apartment.
We caught up with Gerwig earlier this year when she screened her film at the Sundance Film Festival, where she told us it was important to make movies about women just being women. "After Noah and I wrote this, it occurred to us that we wrote a movie where there is no love story," she told us. "That just doesn't happen much. In that way, it's important to us to allow there to be other stories about women."
For Mistress America, it's not as much about women as girlfriends as it is about women having odd choices for mentor/mentee relationships. Through Tracy, she shows an 18-year-old who chooses to idolize Brooke, who is in her early thirties. Lola Kirke, younger sister to Girls star Jemima Kirke, perfectly captures Tracy's fear of going to school in a new place, the struggle to fit in, and the resulting loneliness that happens when you don't find a tribe to belong to. She found someone to confide in with Brooke.
In turn, Brooke loves hanging out with Tracy. Gerwig embodies the woman in her early 30s who still lives life like she just graduated college and has no care in the world. The two are in such clearly different stages of their lives, yet neither seems to recognize it. A lot of this movie is about the plight to figure life out. It happens at 18, it happens in your 20s, it happens in your 30s, and it happens for every decade after, too.
"This is really about how when you're 18, sometimes you don't always choose the best person to look up to," said Gerwig. "You can attach to people that on closer inspection are a bit of a mess. At 18, I was so impressionable and I was so trying to figure out how to be in the world. I would become attached to anybody that seemed like they knew more than I did. In a lot of ways, that was what we wanted to write in this movie. Because, at some point, you realize, why is this older person hanging out with me? They need something."
Gerwig loves capturing these moments. "This movie is not a movie I have ever seen before," she continued. "That's why I wanted to do it. It's about finding these little pockets of normal existence that haven’t been mined. There are a million of them. You just have to look for them and listen for them. I’m always impressed when I see a movie or a play that find these things that are so clearly there that you can't believe you missed it."
"But that’s what’s great about art."
Mistress America opens August 17. We highly recommend it. Watch a trailer for the film below.