American Mistress: Who Is She?

Have you ever experienced that strong desire to be part of something? To the point that you would do anything just to feel that sense of belongingness? American Mistress explores this visceral need from the point of view of a lonely college freshman, who just wants to be part of a literary society. It raises the bar of need higher from the perspective of a 30-year-old jane-of-all-trades who wants to open a restaurant. Mix in an unrealistic plot set in the NYC, a script full of witty lines delivered in too girlish fashion, and an infuriating background music, and you get a coming-of-age dramedy.

The movie introduces us to Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke) who’s bland and flat narration opens the film with this line: She would say things like, “Isn’t every story a story of betrayal?” No, I thought. That’s not true. But I could never say that. I could only agree with her. It was too much fun to agree with her.

As a 1st year college student in Barnard, she tries very hard to fit in by going to a party even though her roommate warned her it’s not for her and by submitting a fiction to the lit society called Mobius. Her efforts are not rewarded as the party turned out to be unwelcoming. She also got rejected by the lit society. She finds solace from her mother who is marrying a guy whose daughter coincidentally also lives in New York. Her mother suggests that she meet up with her soon-to-be sister, Brooke Cardanis (Greta Gerwig), and she might as well do it soon because they will be gathering together for the first time during Thanksgiving.

When they did meet, Tracy was so enamored by Brooke that it inspired her to write another fiction with Brooke as the lead character. She tried to screen for Mobius again by passing this story. For Tracy, Brooke represents the Big Apple – fun, fearless, independent.

Although Tracy feels that Brooke is everything that she is not and that she secretly wants to be, deep inside she knows that Brooke will never amount to anything in life. Tracy at eighteen years-old has an old soul in her in contrast to the thirty year-old Brooke whose devil may care attitude has gotten her nowhere. As Tracy accompanies Brooke in looking for investors that will help her build her restaurant, she learned to be fun and fearless, too.

With these two women as central characters, one may wonder who between the two is the American Mistress. Is it the young and intellectual Tracy whose desires are eclipsed by her fears? Or is it the worldly and irrational Brooke whose well-intentioned dreams escape her because of her senselessness?

“I want the whole deal. I’ve spent my whole life chasing after things and knocking at doors, and I’m tired of running towards people. I wanna be the place that people come to. I wanna make a home for all the knockers and runners. I’m good at that. I’m happy with that. I keep the hearth. That’s a word, right? Hearth? – Brooke

Such questions can only be answered by having these female characters come to terms with the possibility of reaching or not reaching their dreams. So did Tracy make it to the lit society? Did Brooke get her restaurant? Did they get that sense of belongingness they so desire?

What they got is the sisterhood that’s unique in the plot. And more.

Satria Permadi

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