NYFF: ‘While We’re Young’ is a pleasant “Surprise”

nyff52NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Well, the “secret” is out. Despite last minute rumors positing that Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper would be the special screening at the 52nd New York Film Festival, in the end, it was always the presumed title, Noah Baumbach‘s comedy While We’re Young. Considering how surprising it was that it wasn’t on the original NYFF slate (a part of the movie takes place at last year’s fest), it’s hardly a shock that the festival brass found a way to give this one a spotlight. Some seemed let down by the selection.

58aa5d09-cd68-4a2c-9680-388c6471416d-460x276While We’re Young
Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer/director Noah Baumbach returns to the New York Film Festival with While We’re Young, easily his most accessible film to date. It’s a smarter version of what would otherwise be a normal mainstream Ben Stiller comedy. Baumbach and Stiller have a comfort level with each other that helps a lot, though credit goes to the entire cast for getting so many laughs, particularly Adam Driver. Though not necessarily the Oscar contender that the NYFF Secret Screening slot has previously debuted in Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo and Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln, there’s plenty of fun to still be had with While We’re Young.

The story centers around Josh Srebnick (Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a middle aged couple living in Brooklyn. He’s a documentary filmmaker and she’s a producer, mainly for her famous documentarian father Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin). Josh is pretty uptight, with Cornelia not too far behind. Their life gets upended though when a young enthusiast of Josh’s work named Jamie (Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) befriend them. The younger couple is loosened up by the free spirited younger couple, even leading Josh and Jamie to potentially collaborate. Slowly though, Josh begins to realize that he and Cornelia aren’t necessarily becoming people they want to be, while also suspecting Jamie of having some dark motives. It all comes to a head at a tribute to Leslie during last year’s New York Film Festival.

while-were-young-movie-review-0992014-070031Everyone in the cast is very solid, though the gentlemen do get the best parts. That’s nothing against the strong work from Amanda Seyfriend and Naomi Watts, but the script is just more concerned with the characters Adam Driver and Ben Stiller play, while Charles Grodin gets to steal his scenes. Driver is a firecracker here, getting to essay a part not too far from what we’ve seen him do before, but also one that shows some new sides to him. Stiller did his best work to date with Baumbach in Greenberg, so it’s no surprise that he’s very solid here. This is close to a traditional Stiller comedic role, but with a few more dimensions to it. Seyfried is very amusing and endearing, but at times her character is just needed to move the plot along. Watts has her own subplot and has a fantastic hip hop dancing scene, but Josh is far more the focus of the story than Cornelia. Grodin doesn’t have too many scenes, but he’s authoritative and funny in the ones he’s in. Supporting players include Brady Corbet, Dree Hemingway, Adam Horowitz, and more, but the big five are who we spend almost all the time with.

Noah Baumbach’s work usually is a bit more intellectual than the average comedy, which is often a good thing, though here once in a while it’s at odds with the material. His scenes detailing documentary filmmaking and some of the inherent comedy there is spot on, but there’s a vomit sequence that feels out of a completely different movie. His direction is slightly less distinctive than usual, and the same goes for his screenplay, but he’s working on a bit of a bigger scale than he tends to, so that perhaps just comes with the territory. It’s totally a crowd pleaser though, no doubt about that. While We’re Young is about 180 degrees from something like Margot at the Wedding.

Regardless of if it feels slightly “small” for the big slot it was given at the festival, While We’re Young is still a great addition to the fest this year. There’s always a place for a good comedy at NYFF, and this is no exception. While We’re Young hits during the first part of next year and I’ll discuss it more then, but for now…just know that it’s very amusing and easy to enjoy, so be excited for this one.

(★★★)

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