Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: B+
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenwriter:  Noah Baumbach
Cast:  Ben Stiller Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 3/18/15
Opens:  March 27, 2015

Since everyone thinks that happiness is the most important thing in life, sociologists have a field day cashing in with self-help books on how to achieve this pleasant state.  Some also analyze the state of happiness in the U.S. and the world, an epidemiological study, if you will. The latest theory is that the happiest times in our lives are our early twenties when we are full of beans, and, strangely, our seventies, when we no longer crave the kinds of pleasures so eagerly sought by the younger.  The least happy years are those in the middle age of thirties and forties, because we reap disappointments with goals we will never meet and have to handle the stress of keeping our jobs, paying off the mortgages, and getting our kids through college.  Noah Baumbach is the ideal filmmaker to reach out for stories about the different age groups, given his autobiographical “The Squid and the Whale” about two young boys dealing with their parents’ divorce in the 1980s and “Frances Ha” about a dancer who throws herself into her dreams though there’s little chance of realizing them.

“While We’re Young” juxtaposes two couples, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) in their forties and their friendship with a pair in their twenties, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), with an honorable mention given to Josh’s well-to-do father-in-law, Leslie (Charles Grodin), a celebrated documentarian.  It’s no coincidence that given Leslie’s fame, Josh would himself try his skill writing and filming docs, though he has been working on a single, intellectual and static film for the past ten years and has been unable to get Leslie’s financing given his status as a loser.

When Josh and Cornelia, who had tried to have a baby but ended up with miscarriages and have just about lost their passion for each other, have the good  fortune to meet Jamie and Darby who, beyond expectations want to nurture a friendship with the older folks, the older couples’ marriage becomes rejuvenated as Jamie, a hipster living in Brooklyn (where else?) molds the older people into hipsters with the chic hat, a hallucinogenic Ayahuasca ceremony with a Peruvian shaman, and a seeming adoration by these young people of Josh’s talent.  Since things are seldom what they seem, writer-director Baumbach introduces a major twist three-quarters of the way into the story, and suddenly it all makes sense.

Baumbach milks considerable comedy from his latest celluloid venture, the physical comedy centering on the Ayahuasca ceremony when all participants carry buckets to release the impurities—throwing up vigorously.  At the same time, however, Baumbach’s true talent as a writer comes through with the insights he develops about relationships between couples of different generations, one irony occurring when Josh and Cornelia are into their Netflix account and iPads while young Jamie and Darby are listening to a wide range of music on vinyl, with no hierarchical emphasis on pop vs. classical. “Their apartment is full of things we threw out,” exclaims the surprised Josh to his wife.

This is a solidly written dramedy, miles from the “pleasures” of TV sitcoms like “Mike and Molly” which require that the audience laugh at least three times a minute in order to declare a tale to be a comedy.  Ben Stiller is funny without even trying to be; in other words this is not forced humor such as he evoked in “Night at the Museum.”  He has genuine chemistry with Naomi Watts particularly when compared with that of Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, whose times together deliberately indicate that something is missing between them.  Charles Grodin, a seriously underused actor, does a terrific job understating his own fame, making his character the opposite of Driver’s. All in all, a nicely written, well acted, and fast-paced project graced with insights about duplicity, ambition, talent, and passion.

Rated R.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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