Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: While We're Young

Image courtesy of A24.
Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young" is not only one of the director's funniest efforts to date, but also a film that could strike a certain chord with persons of a certain age. It combines the world-wary wisdom and sardonic humor that were the stock-in-trade of Baumbach's best films, "The Squid and the Whale" and "Greenberg," but it also displays the lighter touch from his lovely "Frances Ha."

In the film, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are Josh and Cornelia, a middle aged New York City-based couple who both work in documentary filmmaking. Josh received acclaim for his first film, but has been laboring away at a second documentary that seems to have gotten away from him and is taking 10 years to complete. Cornelia produces films directed by her father (Charles Grodin), a well-respected documentarian from the old guard.

While teaching a class on documentary films, Josh meets a younger couple - Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) - who ignite a spark in the older couple, who are the only pair in their middle aged circle of friends without children.

The dynamic between the older and younger couples is utilized for a number of funny sequences, including one in which Josh and Cornelia are seen tinkering with their various gadgets, while the hipsterish Jamie and Darby watch old VHS tapes at their apartment, read dog-eared paperback books and listen to Lionel Richie and Billy Ocean on vinyl. An outdoor beach party and a weekend retreat with a shaman are equally amusing.

But the film's comedic tour de force occurs when Josh attempts to pitch the idea for his film to a skeptical producer, which is followed by an equally funny sequence as the documentarian screens the six-and-a-half cut of his film to his father in law.

The film takes a slightly darker turn late in the proceedings that some have criticized as being unfairly harsh on millennials. I don't agree with these criticisms and believe that the finale, which is set against a tribute dinner for Grodin's character, aims to show how Josh is a true believer with standards, rather than being a tsk-tsking toward the younger generation.

As I've said, "While We're Young" is very funny, but it's also poignant as Josh and Cornelia discover that while rediscovering one's youthful tendencies can be fun, so can learning how to act one's age. Stiller brings the right amount of humor and pathos to his character, while Watts proves her abilities as a comedian - I doubt you'll forget her hip hop dance class sequence.

Although he has worked closely with Wes Anderson in years past, Baumbach has gradually become an heir apparent, of sorts, to Woody Allen. I can't think of another New York-based filmmaker who captures the lives and relationships of the city's denizens in such a truthfully humorous manner as well as he does. "While We're Young" is, ultimately, a film about artistic integrity, but also self-honesty - and it's one that rings true.

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