finally, a poster girl for the thirty something

How Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have made it ok to still not have your shit together by the time you're 30.

by Ger Tierney
21 August 2015, 1:38am

I went to see Mistress America on Saturday night (I'm a thirty something now and this is how we spend our Saturday nights), and as I watched the on-screen evolution of Greta Gerwig's character, Brooke, I thought: finally, a coming of age movie for thirty somethings. We all remember Gerwig's movie Frances Ha, released in 2012, a beautiful portrayal of a twenty something navigating her way through life's disappointments with a black and white New York as her backdrop. She was a modern but timeless character that young women everywhere could identify with. Now Gerwig is back as Brooke, a seemingly confident 30-year-old with her shit together, apparently. This time the poetry of the story is seen through the eyes of her 18-year-old stepsister, Tracey. While Brooke doesn't have the same goofy self-doubt as Frances, she has the goofy faux confidence of a new breed of heroine: the undone, still living for the moment thirty-year-old. Hallelujah.

A coming of age movie for thirty-somethings is not a super popular genre. I guess by this stage we're supposed to have it all figured out; we should have come of age by now and no longer require a goofy or defiant or "hot mess" character to identify with and help us find our way. Director Noah Baumbach would disagree - clever man. His off-screen girlfriend, Gerwig, perfectly portrays the seemingly totally together character, very busy projecting an image of success, if not success. It's when the cracks begin to show that the truth comes out and with it, the hallmarks of a coming of age character. Brooke brags about a mysterious, wealthy Greek Boyfriend with whom she was planning to open a bohemian come one, come all restaurant called Mom's. She juggles all kinds of odd jobs which she takes in her stride - tutoring children in maths and leading a motivated spinning class - but the restaurant is the venture that holds real meaning for her and, in her mind, signifies the end of that uncertain period of searching for something. Seeing Brooke's fears and insecurities played out on screen lays bare the harsh realities of being in your early thirties.

Everyone knows that there is a certain confidence and contentment that comes with turning 30, that's the bit we all talk about and reassure our younger, naive pals in their late twenties with. But it's only part of the story. Brooke is a new found heroine for us poor souls trying to figure out how to take on life in our third decade. We don't get it right all the time. Life is still scary. Yes we have left behind the craziness of our twenties but this comes with a certain desperation to prove that we are no longer that person who made bad decisions at 2am, bad boyfriend choices at any hour and couldn't get it together to fit laundry into the weekly schedule. It becomes so important to distance ourselves from that person that sometimes we can come across a little self-righteous. Being in your thirties means you are a proper adult, there's no two ways about it, and so you are obliged to act as such. But in reality, underneath the façade, there is a constant fear of slipping back into that period of searching and uncertainty, that everyone says is fine for your twenties, "that's what they're for!" but nobody says is fine in your 30s. Except Noah, Greta, and Baz Luhrmann in that line about interesting people not knowing what they want to do at 40.

Throughout the movie Brooke references her mother's death, often out of context and with a strangely sober tone, but we're left in the dark about the details. Despite bringing it up, it's obvious that she hasn't dealt with it. This is another thing that happens; by the time we're thirty, we've racked up a couple of life tragedies, and they don't just disappear because we're grown up.

With all these life tragedies and experiences under our belts we have earned the right to impart our wisdom on to youthful lost souls. I for one love my newfound wisdom and it may explain why I surround myself with friends much younger. The fountain of all knowledge on relationships, careers and best friend drama is a fun role to play and a role we deserve, thank you very much. Brooke quite rightly points out, "There's no cheating when you're 18, you should all be touching each other all the time". Exactly right, you tell them.

So thank you Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for pointing out the trials and tribulations that come with adulthood and making it ok to not always have your shit together. Turning thirty is life changing and it's empowering but we're still as confused as ever, just about different things. Let's hope that the wise indie couple are still making movies when we're faced with 40 to guide us through that mine field.


Text Ger Tierney

coming of age
Greta Gerwig
frances ha
noah baumbach
mistress america