Noah Baumbach (or Noah Bumbag as I like to call him) has gone a lot more mainstream with his latest film, which follows the wonderful Frances Ha. He’s still got his finger on the hipster button, but here his foot is firmly on the irony pedal.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are married without children and living a sort of in-between life – great apartment, beautiful furniture and no ties but with no real focus. They’re both in their late 40s, at that age where you’re too old to be young and too young to be old. In your head you’re still 20-something, but in reality you look like schoolteachers on prom night.
When they meet actual 20-something hipsters Jamie (a perfectly cast Adam Driver) and Darby (underused Amanda Seyfried), they strike up a friendship that suggests all is not lost. Suddenly they’re out rollerblading, hip hop dancing and hanging out with the cool kidz. The culture clash prompts some gentle humour – not least the fact that all the things the older couple have replaced with hi-tech gizmos have been replaced in the younger household with the things they threw out on the first place. Hipsters, eh?
Complicating the mix is the fact that Josh and Jamie are both documentary film makers. Josh had one big hit and has spent eight years trying to follow it. Jamie is just starting out and appears to be keen to learn from his new mentor. But recapturing your youth isn’t as easy as wearing a silly hat, and when Jamie’s true intentions are revealed, things get messy.
Overall it’s an enjoyable look at middle age and rivalry with Stiller on good form, but for me it got a bit windy towards the end, particularly when the couples head off for a mountain retreat with some sort of hippy shaman. There’s a bit of a cheesy ending too which felt a bit tacked on.
In the main, though it’s not as whip-smart as Baumbach’s earlier films, While We’re Young is still very watchable and will definitely make you laugh, no matter what your age. (Also a bit of amusing casting in here for anyone who watches Million Dollar Listing New York.)
Full disclosure – I honestly didn’t expect to like this one. The oh so kooky trailer, the hipster hype, the unbearable tweeness of being… I already had a good Frances Ho Hum line ready to roll.
Maybe if I’d gone with higher expectations I would have been a bit disappointed, but Frances Ha is funny, clever and just the right side of knowing. It’s not the best comedy of the year, as the posters proclaim – and it didn’t get many belly laughs at the screening I was in, apart from the crisp-eating man behind me who guffawed at the final reveal. But I definitely released a wry smile now and again that I couldn’t put down to trapped wind… which is more than good enough for a rainy afternoon.
Frances is 27, living with her best friend in Brooklyn and trying to make a living as a dancer. But as her dreams start to dissolve, and her friends start moving on without her, she’s left scrabbling for rent money and relying on their goodwill to get by. You do feel for those friends, Frances is massively irritating – she has an almost autistic lack of ability to read other people, talks for too long about the wrong things and doesn’t know when to make her excuses and leave. Gerwig’s skill as an actress is such that despite all this, Frances is never unlikable. It would be a pretty shit film if she was. But Gerwig plays her with warmth and sympathy, never hiding the growing sense of panic underneath her relentlessly chirpy disposition.
Written by Gerwig and her partner Noah Baumbach (who directs), there is certainly a whiff of early Woody Allen here, in the precise quirks of language and the arty black and white portrayal of New York. And while it’s not quite as good as it thinks it is, there’s lots to enjoy.
[Oh, and the scene of Frances dancing through the streets of New York to Bowie’s Modern Love is sublime. I would have recreated it on my way home through the mean streets of Muswell Hill, but it was raining.]