Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 2 April 2015
Synopsis: Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are Josh and Cornelia Srebnick, happily married middle-aged members of New York's creative class. They tried to start a family and were unable to — and have decided they’re okay with that. But as Josh labors over the umpteenth edit of his cerebral new film, it’s plain that he has hit a dry patch and that something is still missing. Enter Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a free-spirited young couple, who are spontaneous and untethered, ready to drop everything in pursuit of their next passion — retro board games one day, acquiring a pet chicken the next. For Josh, it’s as if a door has opened back to his youth — or a youth he wishes he once had. It’s not long before the restless forty-somethings, Josh and Cornelia, throw aside friends their own age — including Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz in a sly supporting role — to trail after these young hipsters who seem so plugged in, so uninhibited, so Brooklyn cool. “Before we met,” Josh admits to Jamie, “the only two feelings I had left were wistful and disdainful.” But is this new inspiration enough to sustain collaboration and friendship with a couple twenty years their junior?
The realisation was all too sudden – this reviewer was going through his Facebook newsfeed one sunny weekend when it dawned upon him that most of his peers have not been posting updates for a while. He then launched his Instagram app and another moment of truth came: most of his peers do not even have Instagram accounts. The people who have been posting heavily filtered photos are much, much younger. And these pictures scream H-I-P-S-T-E-R (read: coffee art, vintage bicycles and vinyl records amongst others)
And let’s not even get started on the ridiculously viral concept of hashtagging your social media posts.
This is probably why this film written, produced and directed by Noah Baumbach spoke to this writer so much. The protagonist of the comedy drama is a 40 something documentary filmmaker played by Ben Stiller coming to grips with middle age. Together with his wife (Naomi Watts), they find their lives and marriage being overturned when they begin hanging out with a couple in their 20s (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried).
Most viewers may not be familiar with Baumbach’s films (if our memory serves us right, only his 2010 work Greenberg, also starring Stiller, made it to theatres here), but do you may want to do yourself a favour by checking out highly recommended titles like The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding (2007) and Frances Ha (2012). The 45 year old American filmmaker has a keen eye at portraying life in a shrewd and poignant manner.
Cinephiles will tell you this is Baumbach’s most accessible and commercial work yet, and we think of that as a good thing. Despite setting the story in New York City, the story is one that is relatable to anyone who, well, feels that he is going through mid life crisis. Relevant questions are asked. What is success? What is happiness? And what do these different things mean to us at different stages of our lives?
Stiller, who has delivered some impressive performances in films like Tropic Thunder (2008) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), personifies someone who belongs to the “purist” era – an idealist who believes that he had everything planned well in the best possible intentions. When society changes, he tries his best to adapt (smart phone and Netflix, anyone?), but the experience is one that can be a breeze or a chore, depending on one’s perspective.
His bromance with Driver’s (This Is Where I Leave You) character affectingly brings out the relationships between two people from clearly generations. Is Stiller envying Driver’s youth that he once had? Is Driver looking up to Stiller because of his respectable reputation as a documentary filmmaker? These questions do not have clear answers, but this is the very fact why the interesting dynamics between the two are the best thing about the film.
Watts (Birdman) and Seyfried (A Million Ways to Die in the West) fill the female counterparts of this friendship, while supporting characters are well played by Charles Grodin (Rosemary’s Baby), Maria Dizzia (Captain Phillips) and hip hop group Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz.
While this reviewer is "only" in his 30s, he can already feel for Stiller and Watts’ characters in the story. Is impulsive hipster culture the way to go (if you don’t know what “YOLO” means, shame on you)? Is he spending less time with friends his own age? Does he not find common topics to discuss with his peers (family, career, future) because he is lacking behind in life? Will these questions, and more, plague him for weekends? This highly recommended film may not have the solution for him, but it sure provides a timely outlook.
(A poignant and timely reminder to anyone who’s trying to figure out what life at different points in time means to the individual)
Review by John Li