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.
In 2009, New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani referred to Philip Roth’s novella The Humbling as “an overstuffed short story, […] a slight, disposable work about an aging man’s efforts to grapple with time and loss and mortality, and the frustrations of getting old.” In 2015, that sentiment rings just as true of Barry Levinson’s adaptation of the same work. The Humbling runs too long, dawdles too much, makes hollow caricatures of its women, and muddles its intentions. Its most redeeming features are its performances; Al Pacino is in top form, with Greta Gerwig playfully keeping up. But neither can elevate this failed attempt at pathos above what it is: bland.
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.
On September 11th, 2001, a dark chapter in world history was written. The World Trade Center, the part of the Pentagon and thousands of lives were lost at the hands of terrorism. A towering beacon of hope, the World Trade Center was destroyed and with it, the feeling of safety and security. 9/11 instantly became a date in which lives were mourned and evil hoped to one day be eradicated forever. To commemorate this year’s 9/11, the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, New York hosted a very special screening of King Kong, the 1976 remake of the 1933 classic of the same name. The Nitehawk chose this particular film to be screened because the Twin Towers were featured very prominently in the picture’s finale location. This was a modern change of scenery since the Empire State Building served as the original location in the 1933 film.
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.
“Elevator” continues its dreamlike examination of Louie’s psyche this week, with our increasingly insecure lead pushing his relationship with Amia to the next level and losing it in the process. Louie spends quite a bit of these two episodes validating his romance with Amia to other people in his life and as they voice their doubts, Louie grows more and more self-conscious. At the start of “Elevator Part 4”, Louie and Amia are out at a hockey game, having a great time; Louie practically glows when Janet asks about his new leading lady. It’s sweet and just like Janet, viewers will be happy to see our sad-sack protagonist in a positive place, emotionally.
Louie is utterly unique to the television landscape. There are very, very few shows of which this can be said. It’s part standup, part experimental film, part character study, part whatever else Louis C.K. wants it to be, and in its first three seasons, the series that started out well grew increasingly confident, playing with form and stretching C.K. as a filmmaker and storyteller. After C.K. decided to take 2013 off, some viewers may have been concerned he wouldn’t be able to recapture the magic of the first three seasons. Fortunately, with “Back” and “Model”, C.K. picks up right where he left off, as sure and relaxed as ever.
Michael Cera’s trademark screen persona is more often than not an awkward teen. From George Michael in Arrested Development to Paulie Bleeker in Juno, Cera is great at being awkward, dorky and adorable but over the past few years we have seen him take a turn and star in somewhat more daring roles. Miguel Arteta’s Youth In Revolt was the first example …