MISTRESS AMERICA. I realized upon settling in to see writer-director Noah Baumbach's latest that it was 20 years ago this summer that I saw his straight-outta-Vassar debut "Kicking and Screaming" in the very Minor Theatre auditorium in which I was sitting. Baumbach's great first film laid a heavy marker in an era clogged with chatty indie opuses as he embarked on a career of starts, stops, pauses and collaborations.
Mistress America is a quick new addition in part of that career arc (surely someone beat me to the "Noah's arc" crack years ago). Because on the heels of the fine While We're Young, which hit cinemas everywhere barely six months ago, there arrives this less starred-up but harder-to-pigeonhole comedy, which reunites Baumbach with his star and writing collaborator Greta Gerwig (Greenberg and Frances Ha!).
We immediately meet not Gerwig's character, but Barnard College freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke), a bright and wryly spoken English major going through the motions of awkward first-year tedium amid peers both pretentious and vapid. The remarriage of her mother leads her to contact Brooke, her 30-year-old soon-to-be-stepsister (Gerwig). It's well worth our brief wait — Brooke is immediately enamored by the charm of Manhattan denizen Brooke, played at a great fever pitch by Gerwig with mile-a-minute meandering glee. Her future big sister lavishes her attention on Tracy during a several-day breakneck tour of city sights displaying her chops as a backup singer, middle-school tutor, gym step coach and decorator of the waiting area of high-end laser hair-removal center, all while raving about her aspirations to be an antique collector, fashion designer, life coach, author of short stories ("except longer") and, of course, as the future owner of a farm-to-fork restaurant/hair salon/community center for which she is this close to landing investors.
Brooke has an undying zeal about her own abilities in the big city and on just about every other plane imaginable ("There's nothing I don't know about myself, that's why I can't go to therapy"), and Tracy is enthralled, drawing inspiration from her force-of-nature fervor. Literally so, as it turns out — when a story of Tracy's rejected by a campus publication, she submits a story based on Brooke's big-city life. When investment backing suddenly goes south for Brooke's cafe, she and Tracy head out to posh Greenwich, Connecticut, driven by Tracy's schoolmates, for Brooke to beg for a six-figure sum from her ex-fiance Dylan, now wed to her former BFF Mamie-Claire ("She stole my ideas and my fiancé. Oh, and literally stole my cats"). It's here at the film's midsection that it hits a manic level of Sturges/Hawks-like screwball energy for about 20 minutes, with zingers firing like crazy amid the overlapping intrigue in the fancy home, and the addition of a straggler from a Mamie-Claire's book club and a laconic physician neighbor whose car is blocked by the visitors. You either love this kind of stuff or you don't, but I'm firmly ensconced in the former faction.
It's hard for the film's third act to keep going after the funny unspooling of the first and the peak of the midsection, and it wraps matters up a rapidly, but Gerwig is great as someone both endearing and a little too deluded for her own good (or to immediately notice her delusion) and the sharply drawn work of Kirke and much of the supporting cast will hopefully mean a return appearance from all in Baumbach's film universe. R. 84m.
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED. My eyeball time with the initial Transporter franchise is limited, so I approach this reboot as a blank slate, other than knowing the basic concept. Jason Statham, the lead in the first three, I like very much. The Midlands bruiser shined in Guy Ritchie's early films and especially alongside Jet Li in 2001's The One. But here the character of Frank Martin is assumed by Ed Skrein, burdened by a face that seems to only display about two varies of disengaged smirk. But the star is really Frank's seemingly indestructible Audi, going at speeds up to 200 mph and leaving in one early sequence what appeared to be about half the car fleet of Monaco's gendarmes crushed like so many Breizh Cola cans.
There's nothing particularly remarkable in Refueled outside of the action sequences, and it has some creative ones at that, such as Frank utilizing a life preserver going after some baddies armed with medieval axes on a yacht, or Frank and the Audi spiriting his clients out of the belly of a taxiing jet, up a jetway and through the terminal of Nice's Cote d'Azur airport.
But inside the car and out, the film's homo sapien inhabitants are less compelling; the villains are all clichéd Slavic mobsters, and the former female sex slaves getting revenge with Frank's help are even less interesting. In fact, that very element served to remind me before long that the reboot that kicked off the summer season — Mad Max: Fury Road — had the benefit of far more enriching female character development, and far more inventive action bits to boot. R. 96m.
— David Jervis
AMERICAN ULTRA. A stoner-Bourne action/comedy that feels lazy and rushed at the same time. R. 96m.
ANT-MAN. Clever asides, Paul Rudd's likeability and subversive darkness almost distinguish this entertaining action flick from the Marvel mass. PG13. 117m.
DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL. The movie wavers between family drama, sex-centric coming-of-age story, homage to 1970s San Francisco and an artist's journey, but without a strong enough central character. PG13. 98m.
THE END OF THE TOUR. A soulful, uncomfortable road trip movie with a fine performance by Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace. R. 106m.
FANTASTIC FOUR. Not so fantastic. Marvel's thinly plotted reboot of the comic book action flick lacks heart, style and fun. PG13. 100m.
THE GIFT. This smart, mean, stylish little thriller about a marriage unraveling and past misdeeds is perfectly paced and brims with dread. R. 108m.
HITMAN: AGENT 47. A genetically modified assassin reveals a civilian's latent super-killer skills to take down suited villains. R. 96m.
INSIDE OUT. Pixar renders our inner lives and the tumult of growing up with clarity, charm, poignancy and humor through the personified emotions of a girl named Riley. PG. 94m.
JURASSIC WORLD. A big, fun, well-executed popcorn movie that sticks with dinosaur action thrills rather than convoluted plot. PG13. 124m.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Director Guy Ritchie's exercise in style skirts global politics for minis and a plot that's not vintage, just old. PG13. 116m.
MINIONS. Sandra Bullock and John Hamm lend voices to the Despicable Me spin-off starring the goofy, Twinkie-esque henchmen. PG. 91m.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION. Cruise and company return with thrilling action (motorcycles! cargo planes!) and an under-developed plot that lacks real danger. PG13. 132m.
MR. HOLMES. Ian McKellen plays the aging detective combing his memory over an unsolved case with the help of a precocious boy. PG. 105m.
NO ESCAPE. Some style and originality in this story of a family caught in a revolution abroad, but not enough intensity. R. 103m.
PHOENIX. Set in 1945, a disfigured concentration camp prisoner finds the husband who sent her there. (In German, English subtitles.) R. 97m.
RICKI AND THE FLASH. Meryl Streep plays a rock star reconnecting with her ex (Kevin Kline) and grown kids. PG13. 101m.
SHAUN THE SHEEP. The wordless, woolly, stop-motion hero takes his farm-based escapades to the big city. PG. 86m.
SINISTER 2. Because people can't resist moving into creepy farmhouses with histories of grisly murders. R. 97m.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. A fluid and immersive drama with strong portrayals of NWA's now mythic members (give or take an assault). R. 147m.
WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS. Zac Efron stars as a DJ from the Valley struggling with adulthood, bro-hood, love and, like, his art. R. 96m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill