Greta Gerwig’s best performance is in a Noah Baumbach movie — but not the one you think

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  • Greta Gerwig’s performance as Brooke in the movie “Mistress America” ​​is her best to date, showing her ability to infuse the character with charisma and make the audience sympathize with her flaws.
  • Brooke is a walking opposite, displaying self-centered and narcissistic tendencies while also being vulnerable and needing validation. Gerwig shows this complexity with nuance and authenticity.
  • The relationship between Brooke and Tracy is the heart of the film, with both characters using each other in different ways. Gerwig’s performance elevates this complicated female friendship and adds depth to the story.

In addition to being an incredible director (hello, Lady Bird, Little womanAnd Barbie!), Greta Gerwig An outstanding actress, some of her best work comes from her collaborations with her partners Noah Baumbachincluding Frances Ha (for which Gerwig was nominated for a Golden Globe) and recently White voice. However, their best team-up—and Gerwig’s best performance to date—came in the form of a lesser-known film: 2015’s Miss America.

The plot of the film is quite straightforward: Tracy (Lola Kirke), a lonely new college student in New York, is taken under the wing of sister Brooke (Gerwig). Brooke’s character is simply deceptive. She is an irresponsible free spirit whose only real job seems to be talking about everything she intends to do instead of actually doing it. But Gerwig brings something impressive to the role, making her so endearing that, like Tracy’s character, we as viewers are tempted to reject all her faults and facades in order to be sucked into her orbit. Not only that, but we end up sympathizing and rooting for her despite the fact that she is almost always directly responsible for her own downfall.


Greta Gerwig’s ‘Mistress America’ character is a contradiction

Greta Gerwig as Brooke in Mistress America pitching her business on the show
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

From the beginning, it is clear that Brooke is self-centered and displays narcissistic tendencies. She was constantly talking about herself and didn’t seem to care what Tracy was saying at all times. Most of their conversation is Brooke monologuing her train of thought while Tracy acts as an attentive audience. But this is how they both seem to like it. What Brooke said was very interesting and intelligent to Tracy, and the fact that she got to witness them felt honored. On the rare occasion Brooke recognizes Tracy and gives her attention – even with something as simple as “I’m glad you came” – Tracy freaks out and stirs it up. Tracy knew rationally that what Brooke was saying wasn’t outlandish or necessarily even right, but she was charmed by the way she spoke confidently and gracefully, and she was content to soak it in.

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Now Tracy doesn’t follow their unspoken social norms, however, Brooke is disturbed – something Gerwig shows with nuance and authenticity. When Tracy wrote an independent observation she had, Brooke was quick to shout that she had one, too, baiting Tracy to ask her to elaborate with the expected microexpressions. When Tracy didn’t ask for more details, Brooke tried to hide it as if she wasn’t going to tell her anyway, saying that she was recording the observation in case she needed to use it later. In this small moment, Gerwig manages to convey that Brooke needs someone hanging on her every word, asking for more information. When it doesn’t happen, she gets frazzled, although she takes care not to show it on the outside. Gerwig was able to portray Brooke’s mask in a subtle way.

The way Brooke reacts to criticism further validates her need for praise and validation. After Brooke tells Tracy a vague idea, there’s no reason she has for a TV show (aka Miss America — very meta), Tracy gently teases her about the topic. Although the conversation had been light and casual up to this point, a small but distinct twist was changed in Brooke after this comment. Brooke tells Tracy that she didn’t leave any details out. Not wanting to be offended by or offended by someone she considers the epitome of cool, Tracy quickly denies that she knows anything, which puts Brooke at ease again. Although Brooke projects a confident facade, she is self-conscious about her intelligence and abilities, needing to be the smartest person in the room. Later, Tracy also claimed that she thought it was impossible to hurt Brooke’s feelings, to which Brooke replied that she was the most sensitive person.

Greta Gerwig Shows Curse of Magnetic Personality in ‘Mistress America’

Lola Kirke as Tracy and Greta Gerwig as Brooke stand outside a gas station in Mistress America
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

Brooke often preaches great but lacks substance and stretches the truth pathologically. She is as ambitious as she is unreliable, as her will is scattered. “What are you selling?” Someone asked her at one point, to which Brooke replied, “A lot of things.” She remembers The Wizard of Oz — Brooke is a brilliant orator with a knack for making beautiful promises, but behind the curtain, nothing is certain. She tries to commit or focus, always pitching half-baked ideas. Brooke talks about her former friend Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind) steals the idea for a T-shirt that she later sells for good money, but it is later revealed that Mamie-Claire tried to include her but that Brooke never showed up at the business meeting.

The reason behind this, though, is a sad one, and Gerwig does a good job of making the audience feel for her despite her privileged position, showing the dark side of popularity that comes naturally. Brooke has a hard time making real connections or keeping up with things simply because she has never learned how before. When confronted by the person she bullied in high school, she is truly confused as to why the woman is still mad. She’s not trying to be popular, she insists — people always just want to be her friend. She often has things going for her, when she wants to achieve something on her own terms, she doesn’t have the tools to go about it, and the ease of moving through life presents other challenges when it comes to relationships and work ethic. After being dumped by a boyfriend who should have invested in her restaurant, she complained that “now it’s worse than before (she) started trying to achieve things.”

Brooke has no real skill other than inspiring others, and that, Tracy admits, is a lonely business. She has a quality that money can’t buy and that can’t be taught, but she relied on it alone for so long it became more of a curse than a blessing. The main business Brooke pitches throughout the movie is for a restaurant/community center/store/barbershop. Although it was a terrible idea, the reason she wanted to start it was real and touching: she wanted people to have a place that felt like home. When the former Dylan (Michael Chernus) offered him money not to do the project — to bail himself out instead — we knew it was the most logical and smart decision, but we were just as disappointed and hurt as Brooke.

Although we don’t get a ton of information about Brooke’s family, we do know that her mother died and her father went deeper into Catholicism after her illness, both of which clearly affected her greatly. The one conversation we had with her father revealed a lot, as she begged him not to call Tracy’s mother. “Don’t bail,” she pleaded. “That’s what the Cardinals always do.” This small moment shows a lot about Brooke’s upbringing and her true identity – on some level, she knows she’s following in her father’s footsteps by being a liar, and she doesn’t like that about herself. The tragedy is that she doesn’t know how to change and is often too delusional to admit what is wrong. The saddest part is that everyone is so hypnotized that no one will give her a reality check, either. “It was too much fun to agree with her,” Tracy admits at one point, confessing that she loves Brooke too much to admit the painful truth. Brooke can help everyone find her purpose but completely loses herself, and Gerwig sinks her teeth into this difficult conflict – and makes it look easy.

‘Mistress America’s Messy Mentorship sets it apart

Miss America Greta Gerwig
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

The relationship between Brooke and Tracy is the core of the film, and their unique dynamic elevates the story. On the surface, Brooke can be read as a manic pixie dream girl of sorts – a trope that becomes infinitely more interesting and subversive when told through the lens of this complex female friendship. Although there is true love and affection at the root of Brooke and Tracy’s relationship, they use each other in different ways.

Brooke used Tracy to feel special, enjoying the power and influence she had over her. Tracy aims to please Brooke to a toxic extent. When Brooke comes up short to Tracy one morning while on the phone with her boyfriend, Tracy immediately needs confirmation that Brooke isn’t mad at her. “You make me feel really smart,” Brooke happily tells Tracy at another point. It’s safe to say that this is because the way Tracy always tells her story is like “I think you can do anything,” but also because Tracy is new to the area and mature in general. Brooke misses her youth too, and being around Tracy helps her be around her college friends too, letting her pretend she’s in her teens again. When someone comments on their age difference, Brooke is quick to point out that they are contemporaries. Being around Tracy is a win-win: she can feel her best and young again.

But Tracy uses Brooke as both guide and muse. At the beginning of the film, Tracy feels out of her element: eating alone in the cafeteria, having a useless conversation with the counselor, and confused by how her classmates seem to know things about college and New York. However, when she met Brooke, she not only gained this knowledge, but also more than his friend. Brooke made her feel special just by paying attention to her. Although Tracy knows that Brooke doesn’t always tell the truth, she likes the way Brooke feels: mature, smart, and a little mischievous. It’s like how she wants to join a literary society full of “self-selected douchebags” — not only does she want to be around them, but she wishes to. a one of them. She wanted it so much, she ended up using Brooke as a means to an end, writing an accurate but unflattering short story based on Brooke. She took Brooke’s life, personality, and material for her own gain, and while she had no bad intentions, it was an ethical gray area.

To make things even more tragic, it was revealed that Brooke often told her father privately how smart and interesting she found Tracy. She remembered the little details and comments that Tracy would make, proving that she had been listening to her the whole time they were hanging out even without showing it. She also bought and kept an anthology of painful stories that Tracy wrote about her. Brooke was on a distant cliff, but she didn’t care deeply — she just had no idea how to show it. Her magnetic personality makes her never learn.

‘Mistress America’ is Greta Gerwig’s best performance

Greta Gerwig as Brooke teaches SoulCycle in Mistress America
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

Greta Gerwig is a force both behind the camera and in front of it, and she makes her best performance today. Miss America. Brooke is a difficult role full of layers and contradictions, but the success of the character is hinged on her actors can make her feel comfortable and effortless. Gerwig is more than up to the challenge, playing Brooke with a vulnerable, enigmatic charm that makes her feel desirable and like a cautionary tale. The richness of her character reinforces the richness of the central dynamic between Brooke and Tracy and thus, the entire film. Brooke is the kind of meaty role Gerwig not only deserves but manages to elevate her skills and understanding of the character keenly.

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