Monday, April 20, 2015

[Review] While We're Young

Noah Baumbach returns with While We're Young, a generational gap comedy starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, & Amanda Seyfried. The film comes off like a companion to last year's Neighbors, but obviously it isn't as over-the-top and there's less dildo sword fights (not that that's necessarily a bad thing).

Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) are a couple possibly nearing a midlife crisis. Their aging shows through notably amusing moments--Josh can't get his power presentation to work during a lecture, and they're bedside light is too bright. Early on, they befriend a "hip" 20-something, art loft dwelling couple, Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried). Josh hangs out with Jamie a couple times, and next thing you know; he's wearing denim jackets and fedoras. Josh and Cornelia gain inspiration and energy from the young couple, but it eventually leads to envy and disdain.

I wasn't huge on Baumbach and Stiller's previous collaboration Greenberg, but While We're Young is much more appealing and it seems to the perfectly fitting follow-up to 2013's cute, lo-fi romp Frances Ha. The script is considerably sharp, humorous, and thoughtful. There's a blatant irony here: Josh and Cornelia are living fairly modern and adjusting to the newest technologies, while Jamie and Darby indulge in vintage material (or as Cornelia says, "Stuff that we threw out") and live plug-free.

The highlight of the film, and possibly my favorite sequence of 2015 so far, comes when Naomi Watt's character joins a hip-hop dance class, and a thoroughly unedited "Hit 'em Up" by Tupac blares in the background and continues into an extended montage. There's also a scene when Josh and Cornelia join Jamie and Darby in some bizarre meditation ritual where they ingest some sort of substance (I'm still exactly not sure what the hell the deal was) and engage in a woozy trip that plays out like their "I remember my first beer" moment in high school.

For a while, it feels as if though the film is just drifting along, mostly because it doesn't have any major conflicts or stakes to anchor it. In Baumbachian fashion, the film thrives on the interpersonal relationships of the characters, as well as the narrative's themes. But things inevitably begin to hit the fan, as Josh and Cornelia have a fallout with the friends in their age range (played by Maria Dizzia & Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys) and rifts arise in their own relationship. We can assume where it's all going, as Josh and Cornelia find their current selves and approach the "Young people are frickin' weird" conclusion.

In a turning point scene, Josh is walking down the street and he looks down and glares at a single bike wheel that's chained to a pole. Like, how does that even work? Is it a postmodern art project? Does it mean nothing or does it mean everything? Are we all just descending and ascending spokes crossing each other in a spinning circle that orbits around another circle? That's life, I guess.

* 8.5/10 *

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