Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” is the second film at this year’s …
Though well-acted and capably directed, the heavy-handedness of Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young makes it one of his lesser efforts. Baumbach tries to anticipate the impending clash between Gen X bitterness and Millennial entitlement, but the execution feels uncomfortably Braff-ish. You’ll probably leave the theater smiling, but we’ve come to expect something a little more substantial from an observant filmmaker like Baumbach.
Noah Baumbach’s last few films have been about protagonists doing nothing, or at least trying to give the illusion of doing something. Ben Stiller’s Greenberg said as much, even while slowly building a doghouse for his brother. Greta Gerwig’s Frances Halloway was a professional dancer who didn’t dance to the point that it made her “undateable”. Baumbach’s latest film While We’re Young is about yet another form of stagnation: middle age. A married couple of forty-somethings encounter a married couple of twenty-somethings, and that illusion that they’re doing everything they’re meant to be doing at this age quickly fades away.
With “Home Birth”, Lena Dunham and the rest of the Girls team end what has been a strong, but somewhat disjointed season in peak form, delivering a fantastic season ender that could have easily, and satisfyingly, served as a series finale. The episode is creative, moving and laugh out loud rewind-the-DVR-repeatedly-and-belly-laugh-each-time funny (more on Ray later). Even better, it services all of its main characters, putting them in moments of crisis and forcing them to make what could easily become life-altering decisions, all while feeling natural to the characters’ journeys.
Hannah and Adam’s relationship has been a staple of Girls. Even when they’ve been broken up or dating other people, their connection has defined much of their individual journeys. Given its significance, “Sit-In” wisely devotes its entire runtime to the dissolution of the pairing, following Hannah through a very long day as she tries to process and accept that Adam’s moved on. Just as much importance is put on the audience’s reaction, with writers Paul Simms and Max Brockman holding viewers’ hands throughout, easing Hannah and everyone watching at home through an unexpected and potentially painful transition. On the whole, they’re successful, though with Marnie and Hannah’s late-episode conversation, the subtext becomes text in the show’s most glaring and least successful meta scene yet. It’s the end of an era on Girls, or so the writers would have us believe, and “Sit-In” is a wonderfully elegiac and fitting goodbye to what has been one of the series’ most significant relationships.
At age 45, it feels like writer-director Noah Baumbach is getting soft. Best known for his caustic tragicomedies like Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and Margot at the Wedding, he took a turn in tone for his 2012 feature Frances Ha, which starred and was co-written by Greta Gerwig. So, though the warmth of that film might surprise someone familiar with his work, that it’s a collaboration with Gerwig explains at least part of that tone. While We’re Young, though, Baumbach’s newest film which premiered at TIFF this year and made a surprise appearance at the New York Film Festival, manages to carry that affection. It’s hard to top Frances Ha, but his newest is pleasant and impressive all the same.
Once again, Noah Baumbach’s taken to contemporary twenty-something culture. With Frances Ha he painted an apt portrait of a meandering young woman struggling to identify herself in a sea of expectation and pressure. Now, the gloves are off, as Baumbach zeroes in on the terrible and vaguely infectious character traits of the Me Generation. Narcissism and pretention are the order of the day, and we’re not talking about flippantly calling your ‘frenemy’ a narcissist: actual, clinical narcissism.
Adapting such a real life story into a piece of cinema brings with it a series of extraordinary challenges. For starters, the walk itself lasted a mind-boggling 9 months. How does one communicate the length of a near 3,000-kilometer long walk to modern audiences with boring them to death? Short of pulling off a Béla Tarr Satantango-esque epic, judicious decisions need be taken in order to pack the essentials into a reasonable running length whilst conveying the harrowing experience in gripping manner.