Unpopped Kernels: Mistress America (2015)

The whole point of our Unpopped Kernels is to shed light on films that are underrated and don’t get a lot of attention, so I feel like Mistress America is the perfect choice. I mean, forget little attention, try “gets a very small release in the UK two years ago and for some reason never comes out on DVD”. It happens a lot, some films aren’t even lucky enough to get a cinema release over here, but that’s one of the benefits of services like Netflix that can acquire the rights to these films with ease and finally present it to us. And it was an absolute crime to not give us Mistress America on home video because it is truly a delight.

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college freshman with few friends, few ambitions and few hobbies. That’s until she meets up with her wayward step-sister to be Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who turns her life upside down with her consistently extravagant and endlessly impressive lifestyle. Brooke doesn’t quite have things as together as Tracy thinks, but regardless of that, she proves to be a lasting inspiration in Tracy’s life, and she’s determined to stay on this journey with her.

Noah Baumbach is up there as one of the coming-of-age kings; his films are littered with the essential quirks and emotions that come with life, be it childhoodyoung adulthood, even far beyond that. He has a very natural touch to all of these stages of living and Mistress America is no exception. It’s a compact little masterpiece with a title that captivates; seriously, it’s one of those titles that I just have to say in my head over and over because I’m angry I didn’t think of it. It’s such an apt name for this film, which offers so much in its very short run time. There’s no limit to its charm or humour, it’s just utterly delightful. The humour is kind of hard to describe; it’s often ridiculous, but not in an over the top sense, but something as subtle as a minor character being present for the most random event, or off topic discussion pieces that don’t derail the film but only add to its quirkiness. It gets from A to B in a stylish and practical way without the need for exposition or an extensive run time. It accomplishes everything with a tender and honest take on themes like sisterhood and a person’s self image, all with perfect comedic timing.

Performance wise, it’s truly flawless; Lola Kirke maintains a perfect fish out of water mentality all throughout, but steadily gains confidence and reacts well to the consequences of the films’ events. Though it’s the actress that inspires the title that truly takes everything. Baumbach favourite Greta Gerwig is unbelievable; she puts on the most convincing self image of a woman who has it all, but when the truth starts to shine, she has no trouble humanising the character and bringing her back down to Earth, yet maintains the quick wit. It’s an award worthy performance from an actress who is so damn good at everything she does and needs way more attention than she gets, and her chemistry with Kirke is what gives the film a lot of its heart.

Mistress America is an endlessly impressive little picture that really deserves a watch; its humour is outstanding, performances phenomenal, the script is endearing and it hits home where essential.

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