Sunday, April 19, 2015

While We're Young (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

While We're Young

The prolific director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg) strikes a key reminiscent of 70s Woody Allen in "While We're Young". The previews suggest a light comedy when in actuality, this film is full of fear, wistfulness and a trace of the unnerving.

Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentary filmmaker in a rut. His socially conscious film on the military is losing backers and his marriage is going stale. Josh is sharing less and less with his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts).

During a haphazard lecture, he meets a self assured hipster Jamie (Adam Driver) who moves like a squiggly sea creature in a felt hat. Jamie, an experimental filmmaker himself, is starstruck by Josh.

Jamie invites Josh to his apartment. Jamie's wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) makes Ben & Jerry's style ice cream and wanders around like a sneaky feline.

The house is a bohemian wonderland of the kitschy and cool from the 70s, 80s and 90s, from "The Howling" on VHS to hip hop by Tupac. Josh is entranced as all elements (from chickens, cats and perhaps rats) are a blissful hodgepodge free of labels and without cultural distinction.

This unbiased life is how Josh would love to live.

The youthful and younger couple invite Josh and his wife to various confrontational activities and cafes and there are plenty of laughs in the mode of "Play It Again, Sam" as the out of step Josh, born before cellphones, is confused and frustrated with current references and deliberate nonchalance.

As much as Josh admires Jamie's loose swing to things, Jamie is attracted to Josh's ordered manner and his pragmatic and anxious concern.

Yet Josh is the more active one, all but consumed with losing his energy and his professional importance.

Stiller is excellent as this strict and controlled man used to being highly-esteemed but riddled with vexations, both real and imaginary. He does show something of Woody Allen, but Stiller's hesitant self ridicule is unique to him alone and the director highlights this well.

Driver is solid too, showing the off-hand and non-judgmental urban artist as a type as you might see in an encyclopedia, if not in a T.C. Boyle story.

Interesting it is, to feel the gradual and soft pedaled way in which the story swivels from a kind of "square guy" comedy ala Steve Martin to something a shade darker as Jamie becomes paler and slightly fish-eyed.

Josh gradually becomes an addled wreck, almost as anguished as a heroine in a Polanski film.

What is more important--- relevance or respect, a famous life, a creative legacy, or a family without any of it?

These are the questions that the film poses with some disturbing hints.

Although this is provocative, some minor  stock characters pull down to the mundane: Charles Grodin is the all-too adamant father in law. While Kent (Brady Corbett) doesn't offer much meat to his role as a former high school chum.

While the somewhat formulaic events give the karmic musings a predictable sway there are some funny bits that show a graceful hand. Watch for a nonsensical hedge-fund film backer (Ryan Serhant) and  the gifted way Stiller communicates that all is beyond and behind him, non-verbally using only his eyes.

The score is glib and quirky, cleverly adding to the film's pensive and darkly comic tone, rather than subtracting from it. Only Noah Baumbach could have a tinny xylophone version of David Bowie's "Golden Years" as a nursery rhyme, perhaps using it as his own personal tribute to  "Rosemary's Baby", mentioned later in the film.

The most stirring aspect to "While We're Young" however, is the idea that both Josh and Jamie make dark twins. Perhaps Jamie is really Josh or perhaps Josh is Jamie, yet to evolve? The possibility always remains open.

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