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New Release Review - While We're Young

A pair of fortysomethings befriend a much younger couple.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Stiller, Adam Driver, Charles Grodin



Movie stars - they just can't age gracefully can they? Despite being in his fifties, Tom Cruise insists on dangling off the world's tallest buildings without the aid of special effects, while at a full decade older, the likes of Neeson and Stallone continue to get into fist fights with screen villains young enough to be their children. It's no different for the women either, with Monica Belluci about to become the first Bond Girl older than the actor playing Bond himself. Writer-director Noah Baumbach, along with good sports Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, two stars who know a thing or two about playing younger, tackle the extended midlife crisis full on in While We're Young, poking fun at their own careers in the process.
Stiller and Watts are Josh and Cornelia, a forty-something couple who find themselves growing estranged from their peers, who all have the usual assortment of children, careers and responsibilities at this point in their lives. A once promising documentarian, Josh has spent the best part of the decade trying to assemble a film whose subject, an aging Noam Chomsky figure, is getting progressively more incoherent thanks to the onset of senility. After lecturing a class on the documentary form, Josh is approached by aspiring documentarian Jamie (Driver) and his girlfriend Darby (Seyfried), who quickly inveigle their way into Josh and Cornelia's lives. Embracing the free spirit nature of their new young friends, Josh and Cornelia shun their own peers in a quest to relive their twenties through the aid of Jamie and Darby.
Unlike Baumbach's previous effort, Frances Ha, a movie that tried far too hard to convince us of its protagonists charm, While We're Young instead gives us the sort of couple in Josh and Cornelia we're glad we don't know in real life but are more than happy to laugh at for 90 minutes. And laugh we do. Baumbach's films have always fallen into the 'dramedy' genre, but here the comedy is front and centre. It's been far too long since Stiller has been given the chance to give us some genuine laughs, while Watts gets a rare chance to exercise her funny bones. Add a supporting cast topped by the always great Charles Grodin and While We're Young makes for one of the funniest movies of the decade.
There's an interesting element of self-effacement from Baumbach, Stiller and Watts here. Acknowledging the central flaw of Frances Ha, Josh and Cornelia discuss their ability to jet off to Paris on a whim. "We may not get an affordable flight at such short notice though," ruminates Josh. A late contrivance sees Stiller forced to don rollerblades, but unlike a similar sequence in Walter Mitty, in which he bladed like a pro, he's distinctly uncomfortable with this form of hipster transport. Nodding to her heavily criticised role in last year's St Vincent, Watts jokes around in a bad Russian accent at one point.
Many approach comedy films with the attitude of 'If it makes me laugh it's done its job,' but I've never quite bought into that. If we don't get some dramatic substance to accomapny the gags, a comedy becomes like an action movie with great set-pieces but terrible writing (think The Raid 2). While Baumbach's film generates more laughs than the average 10 Hollywood comedies combined, we never quite become invested in its characters beyond their being vessels for witty dialogue. The two central female characters played by Watts and Seyfried are given particularly short shrift in their storylines and essentially exist to seduce the opposing male members of this quartet.
With little to really get your teeth into, While We're Young won't linger long in the memory, but if you want some rib tickling fun it certainly delivers on laughs.




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