Thursday, 16 April 2015


Roadshow Films

The synopsis for Noah Baumbach's latest film -- a middle-aged couple's career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives -- reads a lot like a 1990s sexual thriller. Far from it.

Baumbach is known for his smart, often caustic take on middle class, pseudo intellectuals and while the younger couple may not be all that they at first seem, the action in While We're Young remains out of the bedroom and relatively light on.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a documentarian and film producer respectively, though they never collaborate on the same project: Josh has been filming a doco on "power in America" for the best part of a decade now with little end in sight; Cornelia produces the films of her father, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), a legendary documentarian whom Josh none-too-subconsciously tries, and fails, to live up to.

Drifting from their friends who have recently had a baby, Josh and Cornelia fall in with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried); two 25-year-olds who are fun and spontaneous, and view the world as theirs to embrace and conquer at will. They collect vinyl records, watch "old" films on VHS and have beach parties in the street of their New York neighbourhood. Yes, they are hipsters (adjust your disdain accordingly).

Darby makes her own brand of ice cream while Jamie is an aspiring filmmaker, which sees Josh form a fast connection with the young man; reinvigorated by his energy and eager to become both a mentor and collaborator. Between dinners, night tours of train tunnels, trips to hip-hop dance classes and a suburban Shaman, the two couples become almost inseparable.

Josh and Cornelia also become unrecognizable. But are they losing themselves or merely rediscovering the passions and youthful zeal they abandoned when they moved from their 20s into their 30s and beyond? And are Darby and Jamie all sunshine and lollipops or are they too good to be true?

Noah Baumbach's characters often occupy a similar world to those of Woody Allen's: middle class, college-educated liberals (though mostly Gen X as opposed to Allen's baby boomers) who almost always work in artistic or intellectual fields. And they are almost definitely white. And in the case of Josh and Cornelia, and especially Jamie and Darby, they are insufferable.

But While We're Young is no less fun for that, so long as Baumbach sticks with the culture clash between Generation X and Generation Next. The ways in which the older couple try to imitate the younger's fashion and spontaneity, and how the young take everything from the older's youth -- movies, music -- and re-purpose it with all new meaning and no distinction between high and low art, makes for some amusing, if obvious, moments.

It's when the writer-director manufactures a conflict between the older and younger filmmakers in the third act that the film trades in its comic edge; taking on a semi-serious tone about truth and authenticity in art and life, and losing steam as a result.

Some species eat their young but in the human world, you either make way for them or you get eaten. And in While We're Young, hipsters are no less ambitious in spite of their laissez faire lifestyle. Not that the film condemns them for that, but neither Josh -- nor Baumbach -- is quite ready to secede to them just yet. The war wages on, amusingly so.

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