The Best and Worst of Sundance 2015 (Narrative Edition)

Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig in "Mistress America"


4. Girlhood

The title may be accidental, but Céline Sciamma’s chronicle of a teenage girl falling in with “a bad crowd” ends up functioning as the kind of gender-switched Boyhood many were longing for; like Linklater’s Oscar nominee (and breakout hit of Sundance 2014), Girlhood takes a slice-of-life approach to the story of Marieme (Karidja Touré), told from her home and school, with her family and friends. Initially an outcast, she falls in — with surprising ease — with a trio of queen bees, roaming malls, talking shit, getting in fights. But she soon finds that life to be nearly as exhausting as her previous one, if merely a warm-up for the unexpected detours of Sciamma’s third act. That turn almost feels like another movie, but there’s a method to the structure, and once it becomes clear who our protagonist is turning into, it becomes just as clear why we must understand who she was. The acting is low-key and convincing, the photography gorgeous, and even the simplest hangout scenes have a ground-level reality that’s downright revelatory.

3. Mistress America

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s fruitful collaboration continues with this sparkling screwball comedy, with Gerwig as the dizzy dame and (in a clever gender swap) Lola Kirke as the straight arrow who gets drawn into her orbit. Kirke makes an impressive debut, but this is Gerwig’s party; she crafts a complex character whose affects are all but impossible to differentiate from her actual personality. Its tonal shifts are wildly unpredictable yet somehow successful, while allowing Baumbach to indulge in his most purely comic sequences in well over a decade. A shrewd and boisterous picture, and, at its best, an utter delight. (Read more here.)