(Noah Baumbach, 2015)
This film has almost too many ideas. Baumbach wants to say things about ageing, culture, being hip and what that means, creativity, our attitude to art and who owns it, parenthood, friendship and marriage. And he does, but with so much going on, sometimes the film feels contradictory and even confused.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing; it means that While We're Young is never boring, and there are interesting things going on in most scenes. Not just thematically, either - Baumbach has always excelled at mixing comedy with drama, and while this is more comic than most of his work, it still contains a series of effective dramatic and emotional beats. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a New York couple in their early 40s who meet another couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) in their 20s, and this new friendship re-energises them. The younger couple seem everything they are not - generous, spontaneous, excited. They have democratic taste - when Driver plays Stiller "Eye of the Tiger", Stiller says, "I remember when this song was just considered 'bad.'", deliberately use retro technology (vinyl, VHS), refuse to look up facts that they can't remember on their smartphones, and shop in second-hand shops, while simultaneously exploiting technology in a casual way.
Knowing them sends the older couple - Stiller particularly - on a journey to try to recapture something they feel they may have lost, until they begin to see Driver's budding documentarian in a different light.
Baumbach is perhaps a little too forgiving of his male protagonists. Stiller's character here is basically an arsehole, and yet the film seems wholeheartedly in his corner in the eventual battle with Driver (who multiple characters claim is selfish and insufferable). And yet on occasion it seems self-aware enough to acknowledge that perhaps both these men are less than sympathetic. It is a thematically conflicted film, a by-product of its having a surfeit of themes. That doesn't matter so much when there is such richness of ancillary pleasures. There are a few great gags and comic scenes here, a few wicked barbs aimed at culture and bourgeois society and a clutch of fine performances. As is so often the case, Naomi Watts is the best thing in the film, and her reaction to finding herself in a hip-hop dance class is beautifully played. But Stiller, Driver and Seyfried are all good too, and though this may be minor Baumbach, that still makes it an essential film.