Saturday 6 May 2017

Movie Review: While We're Young (2014)

A dramatic comedy about generational gaps, While We're Young starts with strong ideas but meanders into mundane territory in search of bogus conflict.

Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) are a childless couple drifting into middle age, and losing touch with their lifelong friends who are now all preoccupied with children. Josh is a documentary filmmaker with a bright future behind him, and his latest project is an incomprehensible sociological treatise 10 years in the making and still unfinished. Cornelia is getting tired of her husband's ineptitude and carries guilt feelings about her inability to conceive. Her dad Leslie (Charles Grodin) helped Josh early in his career, but now believes his son-in-law has failed to fulfill his potential.

Josh and Cornelia meet the much younger hipster couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is also an aspiring documentarian and full of admiration for Josh's early work. The two couples start to socialize, and Josh and Cornelia get a boost of energy from their new younger friends. Jamie launches a new film project to record in-person meetings with social media friends, and Josh is happy to collaborate. But a hallucinogenic episode between Cornelia and Jamie causes stress, and all relationships begin to unravel when Leslie secures financial support for Jamie's project while dismissing Josh's appeals for help.

Directed and written by Noah Baumbach, While We're Young works well as a sly commentary on the differences between Generation X and the Millennials. The first half of the film benefits from the sense of discovery experienced by Josh and Cornelia as their creativity, fitness and sex drives are all kick started after interacting with the younger, cooler and seemingly less complicated Jamie and Darby.

And there is plenty of true irony and opportunities for humour sprinkled into the dynamic between the couples, the hipsters full of admiration for the music (vinyl), technology (turntables), fitness classes and achievements (Josh's first documentary) somehow left behind by the previous generation.

But Baumbach hits a creative wall heading into the second half of his film, and the narrative stalls. The story of competing documentarians is simply not that interesting, with the subject matter of both projects particularly dreary. Jamie is revealed to be potentially less than pure in his intentions and just as capable as any other young man to bend artistic rules in favour of his career. This sets Josh off on a Quixotic quest for vindication, an overreaction that serves to prove his stunted stature. All the pokey back and forth is sophomoric and empties the charm out of the film.

The four central performers enjoy themselves, Stiller playing mostly within himself, Watts emerging with the most credit, while Driver and Seyfried capture the friendly but detached cool of hipsterdom.

While We're Young is fun for a while, but grows old quickly.

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