Tuesday, September 15, 2015

While We're Young, Part 1

With yet another Friday night to ourselves, my wife and I queued up While We're Young, Noah Baumbach's fairly recent entry to the "Comedy of Discomfiture" genre.

Watts & Stiller, comically discomfitted.
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a New York couple in their early-40s -- artsy-fartsy types of more than modest means, if their flat and wine selection are any indication. While their peers slip into the befuddling aesthetic morass of early parenthood, they find themselves childless (by biology, not choice) and socially adrift, not least from each other.

A younger, prettier artsy-fartsy couple, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, drift into their orbit. Among other endearing characteristics, the youngsters make a reverent fetish of technology the older couple left behind without a second glance -- vinyl LPs, typewriters, board games, even movies on VHS cassette. Exposure to all this youthful enthusiasm for the arcane and the immediate is so appealing, so engaging, so reinvigorating it feels like a gift from the gods -- what could possibly go wrong?

Everything one expects, of course, plus a few surprises.

This is the sort of role Stiller seems to have been genetically bred and socially engineered for. Critics galore comment on the aura of anxiety, shame and childlike neediness that seems to emanate from the man's every pore, which he turns on to great effect in this flick. As for Watts, it's a temptation for Hollywood women and their directors to embrace the relatively more dignified "straight-man" role in comedy. Watts' performance is the antithesis of this trend -- she embraces and embodies the insecurities and desires of her character so fearlessly, the result is both hilariously comic and just this side of heartbreaking.

Critics reach for Woody Allen when talking about Baumbach, and I kinda get it, but I also don't. It's New York, the characters occupy the lower-upper-class and fixate on the ennui of it all. And maybe it's a side effect of the growing distaste that we, the hoi polloi, have for the capers indulged by Allen and his social circle, but I have difficulty recalling the last time I laughed out loud during an Allen movie (the exchange of glances at the opera in Love And Death, maybe, or reaching for Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall (mm . . . maybe not the latter -- self-conscious laughter shouldn't count)).

Anyway, suffice it to say my wife and I were engaged -- in fact, I was more deeply engaged than I originally suspected at the time of viewing.

More to follow.

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