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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Movie Review: While We're Young

While We're Young is quirky comedy genius that should make Woody Allen very jealous.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, the struggling documentary filmmaker Josh (Ben Stiller) is at a professional crossroads: his project has been incubating for 9 years, stuck in a self-important loop with no clear direction, while his wife Cordelia (Naomi Watts) sees Josh slowly growing less flexible and spontaneous. But all that changes when a blast of fresh air courtesy of hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) reinvigorate the elder couple's lives, infusing them with Sinatra-style hats, a democratic music collection, and a finger-on-the-pulse connection to Brooklyn. Jamie is an aspiring filmmaker and soon finds himself attached to Josh like a son to a father; each begins to emulate the other, and before long they find themselves working on a project that Josh is initially unwilling to undertake. As secrets are exposed about Jamie's past, and one couple begins to learn the ulterior motives of the other, each must decide which version of the truth will win, and whose documentary will see the light of day.

Writer/Director Baumbach directed Frances Ha, which showed 27-somethings struggling to find happiness in New York. In Young, Baumbach eventually turns a harsh light towards similarly-aged and entitled people who were promised the world but struggle with the prospects of living according to its rules. But the film doesn't begin that way, as Josh and Cordelia see their lives gradually upended in some terrific comedy and quirky moments brought on Stiller's nearly-classic straight man shtick. We've seen him evolve from his Zoolander days in to a disarming lead that you want to see succeed and hate when the inevitable bad things happen to him. The only way for Josh to move on is to get this sort of kick in the pants, even though he soon realizes that Jamie has been playing him. But Driver gives Jamie such a breath of life, which Baumbach masterly executes by simply showing his eclectic tastes, including an apartment filled with stuff from the 80's that he and Darby have made look hip. Sitting on a record collection that the boys from High Fidelity would be proud, Jamie makes it all look so easy, playing board games while Josh and Cordelia's with-baby couples tune into Netflix.

The comedy mixes in the physical as well as some ad-libbig, some of could be off-putting to some, including a sequence of the couples barfing at a Ayahuasca cleansing party. But it's all in good fun, until the ending arrives to make a commentary about the current generation. It's all a ruse really, as the audience laughs their way to the realization Baumbach has set before us: those who currently rule planet Earth and those who are soon to inherit it are very different. To the young, truth is what you think it is at the time, as evidenced by Jamie's factually-embellished documentary. When Josh tries to expose that, he's quickly dismissed by - of all people - Cordelia's famous documentarian father (Charles Grodin), who guffaws at the notion of real truth. Don't take that as a stinging indictment of youth or the idea of entitlement among the old. Baumbach is here to entertain and make us laugh, and his troupe is effectively arranged.

Stiller and Watts show off a chemistry that feels completely natural; Driver and Seyfried are less so, but their comedic chops make up for any perceived shortcomings. Seyfried sadly gets the short end of the stick: Darby is always in Jamie's shadow and so too is Seyfried. But her style and warmth give Darby an infusion of youth that in turn bumps Cordelia out of her complacency. Grodin spills out quiet disappointment at Josh with a style that's been his trademark for decades. It's too bad we don't see more of him these days, perhaps another commentary Baumbach would like to enjoin about the way elder actors are treated like castoffs in a growing amount of youth-based films.

While We're Young isn't going to beat down any box office doors, nor win any awards, its uniqueness and characters give it a life that resonates on many different levels. It has the potential to shine a mirror on the sea change that is occurring in society, where anyone with a cellphone is now a director, while accuracy is barely checked against the facts. Stiller in his second phase is amassing a resume that includes the hilarious and the thoughtful, while Watts compliments him perfectly with a solid performance. Some will find it preachy and self-important, but if you decide to dig deeper you'll find a little gem that will resonate with middle-agers and self-realized 30-somethings ready for something more meaningful than Facebook, TMZ, and SnapChat.

While We're Young is Rated R for language and has a runtime of 97 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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