Sunday, May 3, 2015

While We're Young review

Noah Baumbach has been on a real tear lately. Ever since he revitalized his directing career in 2005 with "The Squid and the Whale," he's always proved to be an interesting cinematic voice. Really, since then, the only film that resembles a "slip up" would be his immediate follow-up to 'Squid': "Margot at the Wedding." But, starting with "Frances Ha," there just seems to be an added jolt of energy to his work and he's been more prolific than ever as a result. "While We're Young" is the second of three films Baumbach has made in the last three years. And given the positive buzz surrounding his follow-up film "Mistress America" - which premiered at Sundance in January - it looks like he's still going strong.

"While We're Young" is basically a bridging of the gap between "Frances Ha" and Baumbach's 2010 film "Greenberg." In fact, having seen 'Young' now, "Frances Ha" really feels like a complete creative left turn for the director, with 'Young' veering back towards his sensibilities.

"While We're Young" contains more of Baumbach's sardonic tone and worldview and has much less of the playful exuberance that's prevalent in "Ha." And given the fact that Greta Gerwig co-wrote 'Ha' and had nothing to do with "While We're Young," this really shouldn't come as a surprise. Especially considering Baumbach wrote "While We're Young" before he made "Frances Ha."

And yet, "While We're Young" is still very joyful. It contains many laugh-out-loud moments and it's probably Baumbach's most audience-friendly film to date. The characters are likable and more fun, the ending is very hopeful and optimistic. Did the experience of making "Frances Ha" rub off on this movie? That's what I wanna know.

What's amusing about this movie is how Baumbach seems both enamored with and repulsed by twenty-somethings. This seems common amongst people Baumbach's age. I immediately think of Louis CK's rant about 20-year-olds in one of his stand-up acts from a few years ago. There's a specificity to "While We're Young" that keeps it from merely being a CK-style rant (a funny rant, don't get me wrong), and instead we get something that's insightful, perceptive, and often quite funny.

Ben Stiller plays Josh, a documentary filmmaker and professor. Naomi Watts plays Josh's wife Cornelia, who produces documentaries and is the daughter of an accomplish doc filmmaker (I got tired of just saying "documentary" just now). Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried play a young married hipster couple who introduce themselves to Josh during his class and invite him and his wife to dinner. What follows is a friendship between the two couples with Josh and Cornelia trying their best to stay in touch with these crazy youngsters.

The film is at its best when the relationship between these two couples are explored. It becomes less compelling when we discover Jamie (Adam Driver) may be using Josh for his own gain. It's not that this plot development is completely unwelcome, but the energy and wit of the first 2/3rds of the film kinda deflates when the friendship between Josh and Jamie has its inevitable downfall.

What keeps the movie afloat and ultimately what makes it a winner is its honesty. Josh and Cornelia want to be friends with these twenty-somethings, but they're each in completely different stages of life. At first, they're intimidated by these kids, then they start feeling paranoid. And in the end, regardless of whether or not Jamie turns out to be a bit of a dick, the movie kinda shrugs instead of pointing the finger. He's an ambitious opportunist. He's young. Josh and Cornelia are in a stage of their life when they realize they have to finally let go of their youth as they enter middle age. The way the film played out did feel right in the end, I just wish it took a cleaner route as it headed towards its conclusion.

Grade: B+

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