Indie darling writer/director Noah Baumbach continues his love affair with New York with the comedy While We’re Young, easily his most accessible film to date. Ironically, it also happened to be last year’s New York Film Festival Secret Screening. It’s a smarter version of what would otherwise be a fairly normal mainstream Ben Stiller comedy, something I do mean as a compliment. 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 out of the material, particularly Adam Driver in one of his best supporting roles in cinema to date. Though not really an Oscar contender at all (the NYFF Secret Screening slot has previously debuted Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo and Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln, creating a bit of a pedigree) there’s plenty of good fun to be had with While We’re Young. If you like Baumbach and Stiller, especially when paired together, you’ll likely enjoy this. Even if it’s a bit more mainstream than you expect from someone with as singular a vision as Baumbach, it still is more than worth the price of admission. As a late March release to boot, it’s a small pleasure.
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), with whom Josh has a complicated relationship, to say the least. Josh is pretty uptight, with Cornelia not too far behind, particularly as they’ve gotten into middle age. Their life gets upended in a big way though when a young enthusiast of Josh’s work named Jamie (Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) befriend them after a chance encounter. The older couple is almost immediately loosened up by the free spirited younger couple, even leading Josh and Jamie to potentially collaborate on a project. 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 an actual prior year of the New York Film Festival, if you can believe it (complete with a quick cameo from John Wildman of the Film Society of Lincoln Center). Again, it’s not an overly original or edgy story, but it’s done with confidence, humor, and a ton of likability on the part of Baumbach.
Everyone in the cast is solid, though the gentlemen do get the best parts to play with here. 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 in a more subtle way. 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 with Baumbach in Greenberg, so it’s no surprise that he’s very solid here as well. 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, which is a shame, 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 here.
Noah Baumbach’s work usually is a bit more intellectual than the average comedy, which is often a good thing, though 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. 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, for example. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem contributes the music here, which is a solid choice, I must say.
Even if it’s probably a minor effort overall from Baumbach, While We’re Young is still a very solid release for the first part of 2015. There’s always a place for a good comedy, regardless of if it’s at a film festival or in cinemas during the end of March. While We’re Young is a very amusing and easy to enjoy comedy, so be sure to go check this one out.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!