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While We're Young: The age of enlightenment

Rating: ***

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WHILE WE'RE YOUNG
***
DIRECTED BY Noah Baumbach
STARS Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts

Adam Driver and Ben Stiller in While We're Young (Photo: A24 Films)
  • Adam Driver and Ben Stiller in While We're Young (Photo: A24 Films)

There was a time when the movies convinced us that the gap in the so-called generation gap covered roughly the distance from the earth to the moon. Films such as 1955's Rebel Without a Cause and 1967's The Graduate painted both the kids and the parents in such dissimilar terms that one group might as well have been aliens from another galaxy, futilely trying to communicate with the other species and failing miserably.

In While We're Young, the latest from writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), that gap has closed significantly, to the extent where the chasm is measured in yards rather than miles. Of course, in the real world, where many societal barriers have long collapsed, the measurement is often closer to centimeters, but that wouldn't necessarily provide Baumbach with the dramatic tension his scenario requires. Ergo, when middle-aged couple Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) first meet fresh-faced hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), they approach them with the same mix of awe and trepidation as Indiana Jones eyeing the golden idol in that Peruvian temple. A childless couple who are unnerved by their best friends' recent conversion to infant worship — their friend Fletcher, played by Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, even has a tattoo made of his baby's sonogram — Josh, a documentary filmmaker, and Cornelia, a former producer, are also the type who constantly talk of taking vacations but never get around to it. So the presence of Jamie and Darby in their lives feels like a godsend, a way to recapture their lost youth and feel vibrant again. Adding to the allure, at least for Josh, is the fact that Jamie is himself a documentarian and sees the older man as a role model.

Baumbach mines an ample amount of humor and truth out of the vagaries of getting older — there's an amusing scene in which Josh tries to convince his doctor (a deadpan James Saito) that he's too young to have arthritis — and the auteur also comments on the notion of cross-generational pollination, such as the fact that the middle-aged pair have embraced cutting-edge technology with a vengeance (they're rarely seen without their iPods and iPhones) while the kids prefer to be retro (among other activities, listening to vinyl LPs and plucking away on typewriters). The film becomes more plot-heavy — and consequently less observational — during the second half, but even this portion remains engaging thanks to a sizable supporting role for Charles Grodin as Cornelia's dad, a venerable lion in the documentary world (and is that Peter Bogdanovich speaking in long shot at the awards banquet?).

A great film about modern generational relationships still needs to be made. But until such a movie comes along, the entertaining and occasionally insightful While We're Young does its part to help fill in the gap.

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