Review: While We’re Young

Noah Baumbach has floated on the periphery of the mainstream for roughly two decades, and has done so with elegance, restraint and wry wit. 

After his debut Kicking and Screaming, he arguably ‘broke’ onto the scene with ‘The Squid and The Whale’. Thereafter he has collaborated with Wes Anderson in a writerly capacity on two films, and has gone on to direct Nicole Kidman in Margot and the Wedding, Ben Stiller in Greenberg and his latest creative collaborator, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha.

His latest offering While We’re Young is being described as his most accessible, genuinely funny and heartfelt film, and certainly seems to be the most critically well-received. It continues in the vein of Frances Ha, with a higher dose of conviviality than the bleak portraits Squid and Margot paint.

WWY centres around a generational collide between two couples; the 40-something Manhattanites Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts), and the 20-something Brooklynites Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). It’s like a modernisation or inversion of the geographical conflict between East and West Egg and to quote Fitzgerald there is ” a bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them”.

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Jamie and Darby are the glittering, fashionable inhabitants of East Egg, a.k.a. Brooklyn and rather than being grotesquely wealthy, they’re enviably unhindered by material posessions. Josh and Cornelia, meanwhile, jaded by their middle-class trappings and the complacence that comes with it are looking out across a bay, towards a green light, aspiring to have what they have. Reinvigorated by the presence of their underlings; they begin to (gasp) hang out with these bright, young things who have an infectious verve and energy for life.

What ensues as the two couples become more entwined is a sharply observed meditation on the alienation the middle aged can feel in trying to stay relevant.

No longer young enough to pull off certain looks or phrases, yet not quite of the original generation that has been visiting ‘vintage’ cafes and hangouts since their opening, Josh and Cornelia merely don’t belong. Feeling increasingly distanced from their baby-booming friends, they seek solace in up-tempo hip-hop classes and New Age holistic retreats (culminating in a slightly misjudged vomiting orgy). They have fallen through the generational cracks.

9bf27ec1-e6f0-4b29-8e44-3ad45d2f857f-620x372In one particularly illuminating sequence we see Josh and Cornelia’s lives dominated by the digital; relying on remote controls and laptop screens to quench their thirst for knowledge and entertainment. Contrastingly, Jamie and Darby play boardgames, listen to vinyl, throw street parties and basically do everything that their elders have cast aside. “It’s like their apartment is full of stuff we threw out,” observes Cornelia.

Noah Baumbach has his finger on the pulse and effectively traverses the line between what’s considered ironically and genuinely cool. Everything the 40-somethings attempt feels antiquated and try-hard (note – never ever think a trilby hat is a good look), where the 20-something pull it off with quirky effortlessness. Youth’s obsession with nostalgia and erstwhile eras is infintely relatable, and it’s a topic Baumbach navigates with great dexterity.

But as Josh quickly discovers, the underlings become usurpers, not content to learn from their predecessors they have designs to oust them, or such is the source of Josh’s anxiety. His position of status as a visionary documentarian is crumbling beneath him. He’s been working on a stale documentary on US power structures and political economy for a decade, and when Jamie’s success starts to ignite with comparable ease, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

27WHILE-articleLargeThe first half remains bubbly and laugh-out-loud hilarious, charged with quickfire dialogue and gratifying physical comedy. (Naomi Watts has indeed still got it). But as the drama of the plot kicks in, an anxiousness and overwroughtness seeps into the narrative. Baumbach has contrived the ending a tad too much, and there’s something incredibly uneasy and predictable about its resolution. Albeit funny. But in a kind of resigned, lopsided smile kind of way.

Another aspect of the film that began to grate was that of the female counterparts of the two couples paling into the background. They are companion pieces to the headlining male ego. Film producers and ice-cream makers they may be, but Watts and Seyfried are given little more to work with than an updated version of the disatisfied housewife, expressing discontent with their husband’s decisions.

The real couple of the film is Josh and Jamie; filmmaker and fan, artist and muse, creative collaborators and eventually sparring rivals. Ben Stiller does solid work as a paranoid, anxious cynic, something not at all dissimilar from Woody Allen in most of his films. Equally Adam Driver turns in an affable, and at times ominous performance, building upon the kookiness of his famed Girls character, with a sly vindication.

Baumbach’s film hangs on fairly obvious juxtapositions; young vs. old, dormant vs. nascent, hip vs. hip replacement, and it’s strength lies in its ability to reserve judgement –  it’s left ambiguous as to whether old and young can authentically integrate and happily coexist.

Yet there’s also an emotional vacuum at the centre of While We’re Young, because it’s hard to care about either generation. Jamie throbs with a cold-blooded ambition, Josh moans too much and everyone is a bit pretentious quite frankly. But perhaps that’s the point – they’re both as bad as each other.

OnlineQuad_WhileWereYoungThere’s enough keenly observed comedy and sublime witticisms to sustain one’s attention, so that some of the barbed, indelicate moments don’t entirely thwart Baumbach’s admirable efforts at lightheartedness. And if this becomes an anthem for making the most of youth, as opposed to One Direction’s similarly titled ‘Live While We’re Young’, then that’s something I’m all for.

Verdict: A refreshingly different Baumbach film. Some parts a tad didactic and over-done, other parts resonant, jaunty and incredibly funny. At the very least, it will have you ditching Instagram for the day and reaching for the vinyl. Also look out for a wonderful cameo from Charles Grodin. 

Review: Two Night Stand

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DIR: Max Nichols. Starring: Miles Teller, Analeigh Tipton, Jessica Szohr, Leven Rambin and Scott Mescudi.

Navigating the etiquette of a one-night stand can be a tricky business. Do you stay for awkward chitchat over toast and coffee out of politeness or the hope of round 2? Or make a dash for it at the first sign of daylight?

Such is the subject of Max Nichols’ debut film ‘Two Night Stand’, wherein two love-spurned New Yorkers meet for a no-strings hook-up, only for an untimely and unprecedented snowstorm to force them together. Cue awkward conversation.

Megan, (Analeigh Tipton, of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Warm Bodies fame) is a newly single, pre-med graduate in limbo. Unemployed, lacking ambition, and on the cusp of being “sexiled” by her loved up roommate (Jessica Szohr), she resorts to world of online dating to get her head back in the game. No sooner than she’s turned down two potentials, she meets Alec (Miles The Spectacular Now Teller) and arranges to meet at his Brooklyn apartment. Only once checking his closet is free of skeletons, of course. (I’ll forgive the lightning speed of this online meet-cute for the sake of narrative progression, but if Megan were in the real world, I would expect a lot more duds before a hopeful comes along).

Cut to the morning after and Megan attempts to tip-toe away from her casual encounter like a thief in the night. But the gods, or her “magic Grandma” have other plans in mind, causing a resentful Megan and Alec to spend more time than desirable in one another’s company. But as the snow builds, the ice between them melts away.

The film takes a while to get going, sifting through various stages of small-talk, gentle banter and snow-based escapades before getting to the heart of the plot. Once Megan and Alec decide to give each other a performance review to better help their next conquests, the chemistry between leads and the pace of the films, soars.

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For a super low-budget indie, with two leads and roughly one location, Two Night Stand does an admirable job of keeping viewers interest piqued and cajoling you round to rooting for this couple to make it work. Nichols makes smart use of the cramped space and screenwriter Mark Hammer throws enough obstacles down to keep the proverbial ball rolling.

Tipton’s performance varies between mediocre and adorable. She’s like a slightly less vivacious Zooey Deschanel and endows Megan with the same wide-eyed, quietly-spoken naiveté as seen in Crazy, Stupid, Love. However, she’s at her sweetest when describing to Alec what he can do to ensure she has a ‘spectacular’ time and you can understand the attraction.

Teller has proven he can do the charming, witty, unlikely love interest in the infinitely more outstanding The Spectacular Now, as well as the lesser-known 21 and Over and The Awkward Moment. As expected, he gives an intelligent performance, at once charismatic, and vulnerable. This won’t do anything special to cement his rising star status, but it certainly won’t harm it either.

The level of honestly and sensitivity regarding casual sex is also believable, if not completely refreshing.

(Women fake orgasms?! No?!) But among its other self-effacing virtues, are two relatively unglamorous leads with whom the everyman (or woman) can relate. Megan is currently fielding job offers, a.k.a. living in her pyjamas (a situation that sounds all too familiar), whilst Alec is biding his time by working in bank, because since when did we have to like our jobs? Equally appealing is the fact that both their parents are still married and they’re not scapegoating their love problems on messy divorces, broken homes or bat-shit crazy former lovers. These are just two young adults trying to figure life out and let their guards down.

The ending falls prey to slightly more hackneyed portrayals of relationships, as a plot twist sees Alec having to win Megan over. But even in its most saccharine, ‘been-there-done-that’ moments, Teller and Tipton make for an engaging pair, in a likeable story. It sure beats “sitting alone in the dark, texting”.

Verdict: A somewhat contrived, but confident and cute debut. Like the concept of casual sex itself, it’s nothing special, but will keep you occupied until something better comes along.