Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Open the door: Noah Baumbach's When We're Young

Noah Baumbach's new feature, When We're Young, opens with a quote from one of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's plays from turn of the century – that would be the 20th century. It carries the age-old sentiment of a middle aged generation not understanding the one that follows it. In it the sceptic is urged to "Open the door" on the young. I was left wondering about this piece of advice after leaving the cinema. Was it a really such a good idea? Judging by the film – a wry intergenerational satire – I wasn't so sure. It starts out promisingly. Josh, a documentary filmmaker is approached by the twenty-something Jamie (Girls' Adam Driver) after delivering a lecture on documentary film and quickly initiates a friendship based on his admiration for Josh's rarely screened documentary. Jamie introduces Josh to his wife, the ravishing Amanda Seyfried, and along with Josh's wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) they become inseparable. Baumbach captures the romance of new friendships as the pairs borrow mannerisms, style tips and ideas from one another. There's no doubt Josh and Cornelia are enlivened by the relationship. It comes at a critical juncture; Cornelia is making peace with being childless as their best friend's adjust to life with a newborn. Josh is at a creative impasse after a decade working on his documentary about war and the American "system". His rough cut sits at six hours. He's not sure he can cut anything out. But what do newlyweds Jamie and Darcy get from the arrangement? While the older couple envy the young pairs energy and openness, Jamie most certainly covets Josh's ready-made life that includes a well connected film producer wife. I don't think its any kind of spoiler to say it ends in tears. Adam Driver is a terrific foil for Ben Stiller, the difference in height, already comedic. Driver brings a physical expansiveness to the role that sits well beside Stiller's contained presence. The film belongs to them. It's not simply a matter of performance. Baumbach fleshes these characters out. The climax – played out at a swanky award ceremony overlooking Manhattan – is between these two and about the nature of documentary. When it comes down to it Josh and Jamie are fundamentally different. Baumbach you feel sides with the principled Josh while making it clear that success comes to the Jamie's of this world. When We're Young finishes on a cute upbeat note. I was thankful for it but it was not enough to offset the swirl of conflicted emotions inside of me or the sense that middle age is a shit sandwich and, all things considered, I would still prefer to be young and feckless than old and weary. 

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