Noah Baumbach isn’t exactly the first name in a list of directors that comes to mind for a documentary about renowned filmmaker Brian De Palma. With Baumbach’s own work as of late revolving around young and somewhat hip New Yorkers (Frances Ha and his recent release Mistress America), it’s not what anyone might naturally expect him to take on as his next project.
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.
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.
By now, young people scratching and clawing their way towards adulthood is a quintessential, clichéd story. The wide-eyed dreamer trying to make it in the big city is one of the hoariest tricks in the book, but Frances Ha is a welcome new variation on this theme, a striking and beautiful ode to youth and its many flaws. Headlined by Great Gerwig, Frances Ha is nothing short of a triumph, an endearing, unforced, and honest story of failures and frustrations.