Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Noah Baumbach's WHILE WE'RE YOUNG: Brooklyn's hipsters and oldsters mix it up

The generation gap looms over Noah Baumbach's new film, WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, and this provides an opportunity for quite a few laughs, as well as the chance to look at attitudes -- moral and otherwise -- that would seem to reflect those generations. But, as usual in the work of Mr. Baumbach, there is even more going on. The surface is shiny and bright, underneath is not so, and all of it is intelli-gent and entertaining. His latest film is also his most completely successful since Greenberg and/or The Squid and the Whale. Even if this writer /director's hand is still a tad too heavy at times.

Mr. Baumbach, pictured at right, is generally considered, pace Armond White, to be one of the brightest of our intellectual filmmakers, and so it is again. His film offers a lot of what they used to call "sparkling dialog," even if -- in this case, the sparkle is a little different -- rough and naughty -- from what it might have sounded like when that phrase was first born.

The story here is of  two couples -- one in its 40s, the other in its 20s -- and how they meet and become close in present-day Brooklyn. Their connection is the documentary format: the older man is a filmmaker; the younger one wants to be. The wives (or "significant other" for the younger) are, as is so often the case, more accessories than anything else.

Within this set-up and follow-through, we learn a lot about who these people really are and why. We also explore documentary filmmaking (the older wife's dad is a leading exponent of this form -- think Wiseman or the late Mr. Maysles -- and he is played quietly and magnificently by Charles Grodin (above, right).

The older couple are brought fine life by Naomi Watts (above, right) and Ben Stiller (above and further above, left), both of whom shine in their roles -- she by once again demonstrating that there is little she cannot do regarding character change as an actress, while still looking as lovely and appealing as ever; he by using his gift for uncertainty, repressed anger and a kind of all-over sorrow that combine into something quite funny.

The younger couple is played by the ubiquitous and versatile Adam Driver (above, left) and a somewhat wasted Amanda Seyfried (above, right: either the filmmaker did not warm to the actress, or he simply didn't know how best to create an interesting character for her). Though the elder couple has its own share of "entitlement" going, it is definitely the younger pair that brings this idea to new -- and ironically low -- heights.

Rather than spoil the one terrific plot twist, TrustMovies will just say that this "event" opens up the film to all sorts of interesting ideas on the documentary form: what it means, how it works and what it should do or not do. And especially what, where and how "truth" figures into things. It also allows for one of those dearly loved last-minute arrival scenes favored by filmmakers of the thriller and rom-com varieties, of which While We're Young is neither, though it steals from both now and again. I just wish that, in driving home his points about what constitutes truth and good filmmaking, he'd held back a bit more with the sledge-hammer.

While also tackling the idea of "forced parenting" (below) and fear-of-nepotism, Baumbach has a couple of endings to his film, too. I'd prefer that he'd used only the first of these -- which has a magnificent "last line" and would have been near-perfect.  Instead, he continues past this and into the more feel-good realm, supplying us with another joke or two, visual and verbal, which are, I must admit, fun. As is most of this movie.

The film -- from A24 and running 97 smart minutes -- opens this Friday, March 27, in New York City at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, and the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 and in the Los Angeles area at The Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood.

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