Thursday, 9 April 2015

Review: While We’re Young

Year: 2014 (U.K release 2015)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried.

Synopsis is here:

There’s a sequence in While We're Young, which cemented my indifference for the movie quite early on. Cornelia (Naomi Watts) decides to go with her newly found young friend Darby (Amanda Seyfried) to Hip Hop dance class. Of course, this is a chance for us to laugh at a forty plus year old Watts, struggle to get to grips with the urban beats placed in front of her. My ire was found in the choice of song: Hit 'em Up by 2Pac. In this tale of white privileged New Yorkers, why has writer/director Noah Baumbach picked one of the most infamous west coast rap songs, which verbally attacks one of New York’s most iconic rappers?

Is Baumbach mocking the cultural appropriation which appears to be widespread throughout certain areas of America? Then the likes of Lena Dunham or the Portlandia guys are currently killing this right now. Is he remarking on the idea of cultural piracy in the same way that Adam Driver does in the film, in which all pop culture once released can be pre-packaged and re-issued under the ironic guise of one’s own idea? Then it’s irritatingly smug. Especially with a Beastie Boy (Adam Horovitz) in the cast. Either way, Baumbach’s oh-so-cynical film feels forced. Its U.K release coincides with the release of racial melting pot Furious 7 (2015), and unintentionally seems to suggest “don’t worry about all the money Universal have made with their little car movie, these rich, white problems are so much more important.

I’m not usually so cold with a film such as this, but Baumbach’s commentary on the film's cultural hipsters, snarkily stealing, then reconstructing material to create some sort of faux truth, annoyed me. Mostly because I found myself picking at the films own references and feeling they’ve been witnessed in more piercing films. From the Woody Allen posturing (himself a deft craftsman at reshaping homage) to The Graduate (1967) motif ending. The film feels unearned in its entirety. It misses the exuberance and vulnerability I found depicted in his previous feature; Frances Ha (2013), yet holds a triteness that the film itself is trying to rally against.

The film does look to want to make a serious point of child-free couples who are happy without children, as well as the fleeting beauty and impudence of youth that is lost upon the couples we observe. Despite the films more serious aspects of the predictable plot strolling in late. As Stiller and Watts’ Josh and Cornelia find themselves hurtling towards middle age, the film does hold some wry remarks about growing old, losing that youthful hunger and finding one’s self within adult life, something that we all will face in our own time.

However, maybe because I’m seeing far too much of this in real time with all the Timehop’s on my social network feeds. Perhaps the fact that I rewatched the far more affecting Synecdoche, New York (2008) recently, hampered my ability to connect with the film on its own terms. I can’t, however, shake off the feeling that those tugging feelings of regret have been far more memorable than here, in which we rewatch an admittedly on form Stiller, do the on-edge and self-absorbed shtick once more, albeit in a more mature form. Growing up is hard to do.