Film festivals are a good time to sample the latest work of Noah Baumbach. The caustic comedic filmmaker’s work can feel a bit nasty when held up against the tripe that often qualifies as mainstream comedy. Shove it in amidst a series of screenings of art house exports, documentaries, and Oscar bait and suddenly it doesn’t feel so odd. Baumbach’s work tends to be at it’s best when he’s at his most visious and uncompromising. His newest film While We’re Young is a bit softer than much of his work, which is mildly disappointing. Thankfully, Baumbach playing nice is still harsher than 95% of comedies and this flick features easily one of his funniest scripts. Hit the jump for all the dirty deets.
The movie is a generation gap comedy between a middle aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) and a pair of twentysomethings (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried). Stiller is a documentary director with one success and the impending failure of second feature ten years in the making, while Watts is his producer. Not interested in pooping out a kid like their friends, the couple have hit a wall. Then a little energy slips into their lives when they meet Driver and Seyfried. They’re shocked by the young folks obsession with old culture and excited by their enthusiasm and youth. So Watts starts taking hip-hop dance classes with Seyfried and Stiller goes hipster hat and bike shopping with Driver. It’s a little sad and a little joyous, until Driver’s obsessive and almost sociopathic careerism turns Stiller off and causes problems.
It’s not the most ambitious story that Baumbach has ever told, but films like Squid And The Whale and Greenberg kind of pushed him as far as he could go in his comedic character studies of uncompromisingly neurotic and damaged adults. While We’re Young shoots for a softer target with dialogue that is just as pointed. The barbs fly fast and the plot unfolds unconventionally. Even when the movie seems to be on a straight line running towards an obvious climax, Baumbach hilariously twists convention just enough at the last moment to avoid any unflattering comparisons. Even at his most crowd pleasing and kind, Baumbach still finds ways to shove a middle finger at the audience and dig a little deeper down his neurotic well than most filmmakers with similar interests would dare.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the director has compiled one of his best casts. Stiller essentially plays a stable version of Greenberg, a character just as lost but at least willing to compromise occasionally for comfort. Naomi Watts pretty much plays his mirror image and does it with comedic skill that she rarely taps into. Adam Driver’s hipster parody is absolutely hysterical without ever stretching credibility. He’s frighteningly believable, yet just exaggerated enough to bring the house down. Seyfried shows off a level of naturalism she’s rarely allowed in her more conventional leading lady roles. Then there’s Charles Grodin in a very Charles Grodin like performance (between this, The Humbling, and his appearance on Louie, it seems like the guy might finally be returning to acting and we are all winners if that happens).
While We’re Young is as close as Noah Baumbach comes to delivering a purely fun movie. He just can’t help himself and slides into darkness occasionally, yet never in a way that feels alienating this time. There’s also something very amusing about him taking on this subject matter immediately after Frances Ha. That was his most popular movie and also a sweet ode to being a twentysomething accepting maturity. This is a movie by a middle aged Baumbach about a middle aged man’s disgust with the twentysomethings’ world and growing to be pleased that he’s finally out of it. You can’t help but conclude that’s not a coincidence and it adds one more layer of bitterness that is pure Baumbach. Actually, maybe it’s not such a sweet movie after all when put it in context.
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