In his great, overlooked essay “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis says that all people, at some point in their lives, desire desperately to be on “the inside.” How to get inside, and who is inside and who is not, are all things implied and unwritten. The ambiguity over one’s “in-ness” can cause great anxiety. And, Lewis warns, it can lead to great sin. But the desire is “one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action,” the impulse behind so much social comparison, meanness, turmoil, and, of course, advertising.
Many times the inner ring is essentially a clique; and in this sense, the desire to be in is at root a good one: friendship. Other times, the inner ring is a person. Someone whose opinions and affections hold extraordinary power over everyone they meet. Once you sense having been deemed accepted into that person’s ring, you work hard to make sure you stay inside of it—however messed up it actually is.
Mistress America is at once a zippy, reflective, and very funny film about two women: one of whom is the inner ring, the other of whom wants to be inside of it. Both women are quite lonely, but only one of them seems aware of it, at least in the beginning. Tracy (newcomer Lola Kirke) is a Barnard freshman who has been rejected by the college’s snobbish literary society. Brooke (the mesmerizing Greta Gerwig) is a 30ish ambitious NYC socialite whose newest venture is to become a restaurateur with her (never-seen) boyfriend, Stavros.
Tracy first meets Brooke in Times Square, who descends from red bleachers as if greeting Tracy from her chateau stairway. “Welcome to the Great White Way!” she exclaims, henceforth ushering Tracy into ...1
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