Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: Noah Baumbach returns with While We're Young

When the stereotypical man reaches a certain age, he acquires an expensive motorbike or sportscar, has an affair and starts to wear a leather jacket. In While We're Young, 44-year-old documentarian Josh (Ben Stiller) goes for a hip hat and a friendship with a younger couple instead. Writer-director-auteur Noah Baumbach manages to sidestep most off the clichés about the midlife crisis and tell a poignant tale about growing old(er). It's Greenberg meets Frances Ha. 

Crucially, his film is not about a man, but about a couple. Josh and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in their forties, childless and free. In theory at least. The reality is slightly different, as the couple spend their evenings watching netflix on their expensive flat-screen whilst fumbling with their smartphones. Josh has been working on the same project for ten years with no end in sight. Things begin to change when he meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). They are the quintessential vinyl-collecting, hat-wearing, desk-making hipster couple; pet-chicken included. He has ambitions as a documentary-maker and she makes avocado-flavoured ice-cream. For Josh and Cornelia, it's love at first sight. The friendship reinvigorates them with unforeseen energy and joie de vivre, as they indulge street beaches and strange cleansing rituals involving hallucinogenics and vomiting. Soon, Josh and Jamie start collaborating on a new documentary. Everything seems perfect. Too perfect. Soon, the honeymoon phase begins to wear of and jealousy takes over.

While We're Young places itself comfortably between the neurotic/sarcastic social satire of Woody Allen and Wes Anderson's shameless quirkiness. Baumbach's greatest strength is his writing. He has an admirable ear for dialogue and is continuously able to come up with lines that are both funny and meaningful.The foursome of leading performers all manage to put their own stamp on the script and breathe life into the characters. Ben Stiller deserves a particular mention here as he holds everything together with his best work since Greenberg. 

The surprisingly conservative, but perhaps inevitable, conclusion  to the slightly haphazard third act provides some nutritious food for thought for middle-aged as well as young viewers. A crucial storyline about Jamie's first documentary project furthermore injects the film with a fascinating examination of the meaning of truth and the responsibility that comes with it. Baumbach is happy to let the audience find their own answers to the questions he asks himself, which means that While We're Young will stay in your mind for a while after leaving the cinema.