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While We’re Young

Noah Baumbach somehow managed to make two movies in 2015.  “Mistress America” is a great example of the things I don’t like about Baumbach’s films. It features angular, difficult to like characters riddled with insecurity. Smart, witty dialogue that doesn’t sound like anything I could imagine a real person saying. It feels like a rough draft of “Frances Ha” – the characters Greta Gerwig plays in both are very similar – and “Frances Ha” makes it feel mostly unnecessary.

“While We’re Young,” on the other hand, is my new favorite Noah Baumbach film. It’s broader and funnier than most of Baumbach’s films, and while “broader” is usually a knock against a comedy, here it’s a mark in his favor.  Baumbach’s particular frequency can be awfully narrow and hard to find; I liked that this movie had some easier, more obvious jokes, some bigger laughs and goofier setups.  Not everything– in life, or in film — needs to be difficult to be good.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a 40-something couple of New Yorkers who watch their best friends transform in front of their eyes from hipsters into parents (though still hipster parents.) Feeling stuck in life — he’s been working on the same documentary for years, she’s been trying to be pregnant but feels the time has passed — they befriend, or really, are befriend by — Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfriend, who are younger, more energetic, and somehow seem to be living the Bohemian life that somehow passed Stiller and Watts by (in spite of their earnest pursuit of it.)

This is a movie with multiple layers. On one, it’s a comedy of manners, satirizing the “creative class” of two generations, poking fun and the often ridiculous things they say and do. (For instance, Stiller thinks it’s fantastic and a bit odd that Seyfried and Driver are married at 25 – no one in his generation (and social station) did that.  Seyfried tells him they got married in an abandoned water tower with a mariachi band and a slip n slide.  “Some things are traditions for a reason,” she says with a straight face.) On another level, it’s a critique of millenials by a Gen Xer – Stiller as a stand-in for Baumbach. “It’s like he met a sincere man once and has been imitating him ever since,” Stiller complains of Driver, once the bloom is off the rose.”  (I confess I drank that Kool-Aid being an Xer who works every day with millenials.)  On yet another level, it’s a lot like “Frances Ha,” about aging and realizing all your dreams aren’t going to come true, spinning your wheels for a bit and trying to relive the past, then finding ways to modify those dreams without compromising or giving up on them, ways to continue doing what you love and makes you happy, even if it doesn’t make you rich and famous.

It’s also acutely observed, clever, funny, melancholy, heartfelt, and somehow, finally softer, and more forgiving and compassionate that Baumbach’s previous films. It’s a fine piece of filmmaking, a movie I keep thinking about after watching it, and one that reveals new things with each new viewing.  I’ve seen it twice in the last few months; I’d be excited to watch it again tonight.  That’s the mark of a well-made movie.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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