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With: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 97
Date: 03/27/2015

While We're Young (2015)

2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following up his amazingly good Frances Ha, which was co-written by girlfriend Greta Gerwig, filmmaker Noah Baumbach stumbles with While We're Young, an annoying, neurotic comedy about people who couldn't exist wrapped up in an arthouse package to fool viewers into thinking they can. Ben Stiller plays another version of his "Ben Stiller" character, most prominently featured in the highly irritating Meet the Parents series, a man who thinks very highly of himself and can't see how ineffective he is at everything in his life.

He plays Josh, a New York documentary filmmaker who has been stuck working on the same material for a decade (his work print is 6-1/2 hours long). His wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) sometimes works as a producer for her father, a famous and established documentary filmmaker, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), who is about to get a lifetime achievement award. All their friends -- one of them played by former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz -- are having babies, though Josh and Cornelia have decided not to. They find themselves feeling left out, until they meet a young couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) at one of Josh's film classes. Jamie and Darby are ultimate cool, always saying and doing the right things, appreciating life, embracing old technology (a montage shows them using vinyl records, a typewriter, and VHS video tapes, while the older couple uses all the latest stuff), and generally knowing how to navigate things.

But of course, this connection isn't allowed to just happen. There has to be some nefarious plot under it all, so deep-seated that Josh and Cornelia's old friends eventually refuse to invite them to a swanky party ("you wouldn't want to come to this... it's all people our own age"). It's asking a lot to believe that a twenty-something could manipulate so many situations to his perfect advantage without a stumble. Of course, the point is to make Stiller's character into a hero, but it only serves to make him seem whinier and more incompetent; he was so easily tricked, and in fact, eagerly allows himself to be tricked. (He goes so far as to start wearing a hat like Jamie's.) He's such a total loser that he even succumbs to slapstick misfortunes, such as his sleeve catching on fire in public.

None of the characters have any kind of inner life, and they only exist in relation to Stiller's character. We have no idea who any of them are or what any of them do when not in his presence. It's almost as if Stiller were allowed to manipulate the script according to his bad habits, but of course Baumbach's bad habits are here, too. He had a privileged childhood, growing up with parents who were both intellectuals and published writers, and knowing all the coolest stuff in New York. He sometimes does not know how to invite viewers into this world without being condescending. New York is cool, certainly, but it would be nice to see a movie about humans that live there.

The movie was released in theaters in March of 2015, and Lionsgate released the Blu-ray edition in July. Picture and sound are fine, and it comes with a digital copy. Extras include several short featurettes and optional subtitles.

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