College freshman Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke) is having trouble adjusting to college life at Barnard. She eventually meets and befriends a fellow student, Tony, and even develops a crush on him, but when he begins dating another girl called Nicolette, she feels alone again. On her mother's advice, she contacts her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who also lives in New York.
Tracy is immediately entranced by Brooke and her lifestyle. After spending a whirlwind night with her, she pens a short story and submits it to her college's prestigious literary magazine. Tracy continues to spend time with Brooke, who reveals her plans for a small and eclectic restaurant called "Mom's" after her dead mother; the restaurant is being financed by her partner. Upon returning home one night, however, Brooke finds herself locked out of her apartment and discovers that her boyfriend has withdrawn financial support. With massive bills for the restaurant coming due, Brooke visits a psychic with Tracy. Tracy interprets the psychic's words as meaning that Brooke should ask for the money from her former friend Mamie-Claire, whom she had a falling out after Mamie-Claire stole her idea for a business and married her former fiancé.
Tracy has Tony drive her and Brooke to Mimi-Claire's home in Connecticut, with Nicolette joining them to make sure that Tony and Tracy are not having an affair. At Mamie-Claire's home, Brooke and the others crash Mamie-Claire's book party, and Brooke pitches her restaurant to Mimi-Claire, hoping she will invest. Mamie-Claire, who confides to Tracy that she did steal Brooke's T-shirt idea to become rich, insists that she will have to talk to her husband, Dylan. While waiting for Dylan's arrival, Brooke takes a call from her dad, who informs her that his wedding with Tracy's mom has been called off. When Dylan comes home, rather than dismiss Brooke, he asks her to pitch her restaurant. Brooke stumbles, but Tracy, still enthused by the project, helps her to pitch it. Dylan tells Brooke he will give her the money but insists that, rather than invest in it, he will give it to her to cover the debt she will have from dissolving the business. Seeing that Tracy is upset by this, and also the toxic effect the offer is immediately having on Dylan and Mamie-Claire's relationship, Brooke ultimately refuses the money. Meanwhile, Nicolette, who witnessed Tracy kissing Tony, confronts Tracy about her short story. The entire party reads it, and Brooke becomes offended by the brutal way in which Tracy characterized her. She informs her that they are no longer about to become sisters, as their parents no longer want to marry, and tells Tracy that she will sue. Upset, Tracy, sitting outside the house, takes a hit on the bong that Tony had earlier fashioned from an apple with her initial emblazoned on it, smoking weed that he had presumably stolen from Dylan's freezer.
Tracy's story is accepted by the university's prestigious literary society, and for a while she joins the group. Still finding herself unable to fit in, she decides to start her own literary club, inviting both Tony and Nicolette to apply for membership.
Finding herself alone on Thanksgiving, Tracy goes to Brooke's old apartment and finds her packing her things, about to move to Los Angeles. She learns that Brooke was able to cover her debts, as Mamie-Claire gave her what would have been her share of money from the T-shirt business. Brooke also tells her that she has passed the SAT and that she has been accepted into college and is considering going. Tracy invites Brooke to have Thanksgiving dinner with her. The two eat out at a restaurant, as the film concludes with Tracy, as narrator, musing: "Being a beacon of hope for lesser people is a lonely business."Greta Gerwig as Brooke Cardinas
Lola Kirke as Tracy Fishko
Heather Lind as Mamie-Claire
Cindy Cheung as Karen
Jasmine Cephas Jones as Nicolette
Matthew Shear as Tony
Kathryn Erbe as Stevie Fishko
Michael Chernus as Dylan
The musical score for Mistress America was composed by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, who previously collaborated with director Baumbach on The Squid and the Whale. A soundtrack album was released on August 14, 2015 by Milan Records.
Mistress America premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2015.
On January 9, 2015, Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired worldwide distribution rights for the film. The film was released on August 14, 2015, by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Mistress America was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 1, 2015.
The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% of 131 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Mistress America brings out the best in collaborators Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, distilling its star's charm and director's dark wit into a ferociously funny co-written story." On Metacritic, it holds a 75 out of 100 rating based on 42 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The central screwball comedy section set in the Connecticut mansion divided critics. While conceding that the film's ending "resolves things on a basically satisfying, quasi-poignant note," Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter states that the "inconsistency of the approach overall, combined with Gerwig's maximum voltage performance, is disconcerting, even off-putting". Amy Nicholson writing for LA Weekly praises the casting of the section, in particular the performance of Heather Lind, but states that the "clumsy" sequence "stops the movie cold". On the other hand Peter Bradshaw, writing in The Guardian, praises the "outrageously farcical and funny extended sequence." For Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times, the "neo-screwball" sequence centres around the scene in which "half a dozen Brooke-related characters, indentured to her worship, form tableau vivant tribunals to critique Tracy’s acidic, Brooke-based short story," exemplifying the film's themes of love, art, and betrayal, as well as "the pitfalls of hero worship versus the wise counsels of judicious disenchantment." He concludes that the film is "funny, witty, joyous, mischievous and casually profound."
Variety's review from Sundance states: "Greta Gerwig shines in a tailor-made role in her and Noah Baumbach's spirited screwball follow-up to Frances Ha."