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Stiller in age anxiety crisis

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KIM TAYLOR-FOSTER reviews Baumbach's 'happy film' While We're Young

THERE are plenty of films that deal with the different stages of life, and broaching our difficulties in handling them is the basis for many comedies.

So you’d expect an auteur like Noah Baumbach to approach his latest film tackling middle-age with characteristic indie sensibilities, an off-kilter tone and quirky dialogue.

Not so. What he’s done is craft a run-of-the-mill, uninspired, formulaic comedy that might as well star Paul Rudd, or any other 40-something, rom com-friendly actor. It does make some interesting points about the medium of film though (specifically documentary) and it gets its casting (mostly) right.

Ben Stiller is Josh, a filmmaker who’s been working on the same project since forever. When he and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) find their heads turned by the vim and vigour of young couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) at the same time as best friends Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horovitz) enter a new baby-focused phase of their lives, they’re forced to question exactly where they fit.

With Stiller dipping his toe in edgier projects of late, it’s no surprise to see him team up with Baumbach again (they worked together on Greenberg in 2010). Chuck in Watts, one-time Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz and indie favourite Adam Driver, along with the wonderful Charles Grodin, and you’ve got an equation for success. Except that something in the workings has gone awry. What results is something that’s kind of embarrassing – but maybe that’s the point.

Recalling otherwise forgettable Paul Rudd vehicle , marks itself out with some pertinent points about the depiction of truth in the documentary genre, as well as examining what it means to grow older, how we’re defined by society and how we struggle with the expectations placed on us. Indeed, it’s not the subject matter that fails, it’s the presentation that falters.

Interestingly, the most engaging couple is the one that doesn’t fall into stereotype, and the one that’s afforded the least screen time. While Darby and Jamie are the quintessential hipster couple, and Josh and Cornelia the clinging-onto-youth middle-agers, Fletcher and Marina embrace their stage of life. But instead of fleshing them out in the film, they sit within it as an under-developed representation of the life stage Josh and Cornelia ‘should’ be at.

This is perhaps Baumbach’s most conventional movie to date and it suffers from the mainstream approach. Compared to the films of Woody Allen by some critics, it has none of the wit, sparky dialogue and believably eccentric characters that Allen’s films are known for. As such, it’s really missed a trick.

While We’re Young (12A)
Running time 1hr 37 min
Rating **

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