“Mistress America” may be the greatest Woody Allen movie Woody Allen never had a hand in.

That’s high praise for the third collaboration between writer-director Noah Baumbach and writer-star Greta Gerwig, a thoroughly modern movie concerned with self-delusion, deceit, the tangles of modern family life and so much more. That it also manages to be the year’s most flat-out funny screwball comedy, filled with torrents of colliding conversation, is all the more remarkable.

Tracy (Lola Kirke), is a lonely college freshman and aspiring writer in New York City. Her engaged mother suggests she give the early-30s soon-to-be-stepsister that she’s never met a call.

That would be Brooke (Gerwig) a beautiful, boisterous, ball of energy under whose spell Tracy immediately falls, even though she also recognizes the woman’s scatteredness. The two bond and Brooke reveals her current major project: Finding funding for the hair salon-restaurant-grocery store combo she plans to open.

Baumbach and Gerwig let the relationship take hold — and take note, neither woman is tied to a romantic relationship in this movie — and then they send them on a road trip, accompanied by a couple of bickering friends of Tracy’s (Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas Jones). The destination: The Connecticut home of Brooke’s former, now-rich boyfriend (Michael Chernus), who is married to Brooke’s nemesis/former best friend (a razor sharp Heather Lind).

Brooke is looking for money and she hopes to find it in this glass exterior house. The ensuing conversations — other characters wander through, tossing verbal bombs — revelations and realizations take up most of the film’s second half, with words ping-ponging gloriously every which way. It’s comic ensemble acting at its best.

But then “Mistress America” is comedy at its best — thoughtful and real while consistently riotous. Woody might even want to take notes.

‘Mistress America’


Rated R for language including some sexual references

Running time: 84 minutes

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