Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Mistress America’ (2015)

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In the same way people steal content and images off the Internet, some folks arbitrarily co-opt the lives of others, using them, as would heartless deities, for sport. Such psychic and experiential theft is at the core of Mistress America.

Directed and co-written by Noah Baumbach, the movie is essentially the tale a sudden friendship between two young women. One is Tracy (Lola Kirke), a Barnard freshman who doesn’t quite fit in and who’s desperate to get some of her writing accepted by the university’s snooty literary society. Tracy’s mom (Kathryn Erbe) is engaged to a man who happens to be the father of Brooke (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay).

Because these two fledgling step-sisters are going to be thrown together at the upcoming nuptials, Tracy contacts Brooke in advance of the wedding. Brooke, a breathlessly ebullient, larger-than-life, multi-hyphenate – cycle instructor, budding restauranteur, intellectual property generator, and part-time interior designer – embraces “baby Tracy” as a true sibling.

But just as sisters invariably lend out clothes to each other, Tracy finds Brooke’s life utterly fascinating and borrowable.

A considerable part of the movie involves Tracy’s college classmate Tony (Matthew Shear) with similar literary proclivities, his possessive girlfriend Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones), a wealthy ex-boyfriend (Michael Chernus) – Brooke is hoping he can fund one of her entrepreneurial projects – and his unlikeable wife (Heather Lind) who, in turn, had stolen an idea from Brooke back when and made a mint off it.

The question here is where does “borrowing” end and outright thievery begin, which easily segues into a larger issue of self-identity. The Saturnine principle of chipping away anything extraneous to one’s self is no easy task. Clearly Brooke has too much marble to work with, and Tracy, not enough.

Mistress America – the title comes from one of Brooke’s project ideas – is what might be called a screwball cautionary tale about paring down one’s self-definition to the bare essentials, and relying on life to fill in the gaps when you don’t think what’s truly yours is enough.

Archetype: Thief.

Astrology Archetypes: ♄ (Saturn)

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