Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Movie Review #242: "While We're Young" (2014)

Movie"While We're Young"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rating: R
Running Time 1 hour, 37 minutes
Image Source
Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentary filmmaker who has been working on the same film for the better part of a decade, and is married to a producer named Cornelia (Naomi Watts). Their best friends Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horovitz) have just had their first child and the new baby has put a bit of a strain on their friendship. While teaching a film class, Josh meets a young hipster couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is, coincidentally, an aspiring documentarian himself and says he admires Josh's work. Jamie and Darby invite Josh and his wife to hang out, which they do and start to do more frequently in an attempt to recapture their youth. Along the way, Josh and Cornelia join in on some rather wild activities very atypical for them. Jamie also convinces Josh and Cornelia to help him with his new film idea, and it turns out, their meeting might not be so coincidental after all.

We were surprised to see "While We're Young" pop up in our local theater because it had received little to no promotion whatsoever, at least in our area. If I hadn't already been a huge Adam Driver fan, chances are, we would have never heard of this movie. Director Noah Baumbach has a history with Ben Stiller and is also fluent in the language of indie poignancy. His previous films have left us feeling a bit "blah" on his work as a whole, but we haven't seen one of his movies in quite some time, so our thoughts and opinions may have changed. Open-minded as always, we headed to the cinema, and where BigJ and I differ slightly on our overall opinions of this film, we can both agree that it felt pretty long, though it wasn't overly so time-wise, and was exceedingly dull in some places. Since it doesn't happen too often (we don't know if we're just lucky or if we sit in a position where everyone else is typically behind us), we tend to notice when people get out their cell phones during a movie. There is a rant attached to this that we will leave for another day, but there was a point at which a lady in our theater pulled out her phone. Like always, we noticed, and our first thought was that she did it to text someone, but it turned out, she was just checking the clock to see how long this film had been on, coming to the realization it still had a long way to go. Filmmakers, hear our plea: if your movie is less than 2 hours long, it should not feel like it's over 2 hours in length. Slow, dragging pace and long, tedious, seemingly poetic self-examinations can really bring you down, so try to reign it in a little bit in the future, okay?

Though there are definitely some laughs and a couple of decent moments here and there sprinkled throughout its run time, this movie feels like it is the definition of try-hard. It is meant to be a revelationary comedy about growing up and growing older in a 24-hour, never stopping, never ending internet-crazed, instant gratification era surrounded by millennials who have not a care in the world, but really, we found it to be centered on a faulty premise of hipster and faux-hipster ideals constructed around the typical upper-crust "New York experience," otherwise known as white people problems. What was meant to be a deep, poignant evaluation of one couple's experience with getting older in a relationship where there was both a sense of complacency and also room for change quickly turns into a resentful, bitter partnership when introduced to a generational divide, something they hadn't had a problem with until it became one. In my opinion, Baumbach does hit a few high notes with his analysis of getting older, but maybe I identify with it at this present point in my life because I am almost 30 years old. Damn, it hurts to say that out loud. This film is part midlife crisis, part critique on the modern aged entitlement of young, free-spirited adults. In its critique, it almost becomes a parody of itself.

Beyond a few interactions between Adam Driver and Ben Stiller both early on and towards the end of the movie, overall, there is just very little to it, and it's not because "we don't get it," an excuse we have grown to loathe as film critics. Many of the characters in this film are rather unlikable people, which I think speaks to how well some of the actors perform in this film, but BigJ disagrees. All of the characters here seem like self-centered assholes masquerading as something they are not in an effort to have their selfish stink removed from them somehow, some way. Sure, Adam Driver as Jamie is charming and acts friendly, but he always seems to be working an angle, which is blatantly obvious the first time you see him on screen. Even his body language reads "deceit" from the second he talks to Ben Stiller's Josh. Jamie is probably one of the most stereotypical hipster characters we have seen on screen. Right off the bat, he has the hat and tight jeans combo. When Josh ends up at his house, he finds that all of Jamie's music is on vinyl, because of course it is. He also watches all of his movies on VHS, uses a typewriter, wears ironic t-shirts, and his girlfriend Darby makes her own avocado-flavored ice cream that tastes like marzipan. By contrast, Josh is bullheaded and can't accept any criticism of his work without thinking it's a personal attack (something BigJ should be familiar with since I have a tendency to do this from time to time, too). Josh has been working on the same documentary for 10 years and has no idea how to cut it down. Hell, he can't even finish the damn thing, but still, he rejects all advice from those who are simply trying to help him under the false guise of artistic integrity. Ben Stiller plays Josh in the same manner he plays pretty much every character he has ever played. He has the same dead-pan, sarcastic quips and tonality we all know he has, as well as the condescending attitude that comes with it. We will also admit there is some whit in this film, and Jamie's constant filming of awkward situations offers up a chuckle or two. Even the friends with the new baby, Marina and Fletcher, are pretentious douchebags right off the bat, too. They constantly hound Josh and Cornelia about having kids, even though they have made is abundantly clear they really don't want one at this point in their lives, or perhaps even ever. This is especially considering that in the past, every time they attempted to conceive, it resulted in a miscarriage. Josh and Cornelia have done everything they can to distance themselves from the "baby cult," but still remain friends with Marina and Fletcher, but when there is a minor rift in their friendship, said douchebags throw a huge party and don't invite them. Even after this, they are right back at it, asking when Josh and Cornelia "when are you going to have a kid" over and over and over again. BigJ and I can completely identify with this sentiment as people are constantly harassing us about having children, even though we have made it abundantly clear we have no desire to have one, but the difference here is we're not going to even come close to changing our minds.

We're not in the business of felicitating a movie simply because it has a cool, hipster vibe, or a poignant arch about growing old. Most of the time, where there is meant to be satire, we honestly just felt annoyed. Though we initially thought we might be able to identify with Josh and Cornelia's thoughts on aging in a kid-less couple, we were ultimately let down with a Woody Allen-esque, superficial series of unpleasant events we wish had liked more but simply didn't. Jokes about a couple in their 40's trying things that are, for some weird social reasons, only acceptable to be performed by people in their 20's, aren't funny. Sticking Ben Stiller in a ridiculous looking trilby (and really, no matter what age you are, it's hard not to look ridiculous in a trilby) or making Naomi Watts attempt to hip-hop dance, or making them go to an Ayahuasca ceremony to vomit their demons isn't humorous by itself, but when masked by the guise of important self-revelation, it's definitely more try-hard than anything.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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