While We're Young

 

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Noah Baumbach does Woody Allen with Ben Stiller falling back on his old Jewish angst 

shtick.

 

While We're Young
Retro fit: Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts

  

The writer-director Noah Baumbach made his name with the caustic and insightful The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, both liberally laced with black humour. More recently, with films like the critically adored Greenberg and Frances Ha, he has erred more towards straight-out comedy, with his insights into the human condition taking a back seat to the one-liners. Adopting the comic rhythms, dialogue and idiosyncratic characters of Woody Allen, Baumbach has placed himself in the position of becoming the former’s natural successor. Here, he tackles the angst of becoming middle-aged and has cast his Greenberg star Ben Stiller in the role of the protagonist panicking about his arthritis and dimming eyesight.

Stiller plays the 44-year-old New York filmmaker Josh Srebnick (Baumbach was 44 during the film’s production) who is struggling with a documentary of an indeterminate theme that he has been working on for ten years. He convinces himself that in spite of his career insecurities he is a contented man and is happily married to his long-term wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts). But then their world is turned upside down when they befriend a couple twenty years younger. Jamie (Adam Driver) is also a documentarian, while his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) manufactures eccentric ice cream. However, while Josh and Cornelia embrace the new technology available to them, their young friends prefer playing board games and vinyl and relish everything retro (like the back catalogue of one Josh Srebnick). Much comedy is milked from this divergence. When Jamie reveals that he is listening to Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ Josh quips, “I remember when this song was considered bad.”

The trouble with While You’re Young is that, unlike with Baumbach’s earlier films, the comedy feels forced. These are comic characters, not real people, and the plot seems to be entirely hinged on a handful of gags. Stiller resorts to the deadpan angst he perfected so well in far funnier comedies (Flirting With Disaster, There’s Something About Mary, Meet the Parents…), while Baumbach opts for Vivaldi for his musical links, a trying and tested comic formula. Of the supporting cast it’s a joy to see Charles Grodin again (as Cornelia’s father), who brings a mature gravitas to the proceedings and creates a character who is both real and resonant. At 79 years of age, he can still outshine the youngsters.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz, Maria Dizzia, Brady Corbet.

 

Dir Noah Baumbach, Pro Scott Rudin and Noah Baumbach, Screenplay Noah Baumbach, Ph Sam Levy, Pro Des Adam Stockhausen, Ed Jennifer Lame, Music James Murphy, Costumes Ann Roth.

 

Scott Rudin Productions-Icon.

96 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 3 April 2015. Cert. 15.