Arts Review, Movies
Noah Baumbach, director and writer
Starring: Ben Stiller (Josh), Naomi Watts (Cornelia), Adam Driver (Jamie), Amanda Seyfried (Darby), Maria Dizzia (Marina), Adam Horovitz (Fletcher), Peter Yarrow (Ira Mandlestam), Charles Grodin (Leslie Breitbart)
The public’s current fascination about documentaries will be upped a couple of notches with the release of Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young. The film’s two male leads, Ben Stiller and Adam Driver and in a significant character part, the inimitable Charles Grodin, play documentary directors at different stages in their careers. Grodin is Leslie Breitbart, a classic cinema verité filmmaker based on D.A. Pennebaker, Fred Wiseman and the late Al Maysles, whose son-in-law Josh (Ben Stiller) is in a mid-life crisis, stuck on completing a doc that’s taken a decade and wondering whether he should have become a father.
Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver), an aspiring young doc-maker and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) when they chat with him after auditing his class. Loving their spontaneity and apparent lack of ambition, Josh introduces the young twenty-somethings to his wife Cornelia, who just happens to be Leslie Breitbart’s daughter and his producer. Quicker than you can say “hot docs,” the four are eating food in hipster Brooklyn bistros and downing the Peruvian hallucinogen ayahuasca together. For Josh and Cornelia, childless in their early 40s, the friendship with Jamie and Darby offers a return to their past bohemian life and a break from their peers, who are happily birthing babies.
What are Jamie and his ice-cream making wife Darby getting out of their relationship with their new friends? Plenty. Josh starts helping Jamie on his new doc, a project based on meeting “for real” Facebook friends, who are old acquaintances. Turns out that Jamie strikes gold when an old high school pal, now in a mental institution, who turns out to be a veteran of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and an unexpected anti-military activist.
Baumbach, whose best-known film is the quirky coming-of-age Brooklyn dysfunctional family comedy The Squid and the Whale has crafted a scenario with lots of twists. Most surround the classic ethical discussion around documentaries: can you manipulate events to reveal a truth that will attract an audience?
While We’re Young features excellent performances by Stiller, Watts and Seyfried. Driver, who plays Lena Dunham’s character’s boyfriend in another Brooklyn cultural project Girls, offers his best screen interpretation to date as the complex Jamie and in unexpected roles Adam Horovitz, formerly of beloved hip hop punk band The Beastie Boys and Peter Yarrrow, from the legendary folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary, are quite good.
This is Noam Baumbach’s most accessible film to date. It’s worth viewing, especially if you love docs and have experienced a mid-life crisis.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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