Blu-ray Review: While We're Young

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Back in 2010, writer-director Noah Baumbach issued a relatively little-seen gem of a character study called Greenberg. It stars Ben Stiller in the titular role, a chronically-depressed man who has just entered middle age and hasn't quite come to grips with his severe case of arrested development. At one point, he attempts to defy his age by partying with a group of 20-somethings, but it only magnifies the generation gap. Greenberg doesn’t fit in with people his own age, but things just get uncomfortable and weird when he tries to be the “cool, older dude” in a group of college kids. Baumbach and Stiller have collaborated once again with While We're Young, a critically-lauded but also little-seen comedic drama that exists roughly in the same general ballpark as Greenberg. Only this time, Baumbach has infused his film with a lighter touch, not to mention a near disastrous dash of The Usual Suspects by adding an unlikely Keyser Soze twist for the third act.

Up until then, While We're Young plays like a Woody Allen-inspired, lighter-hearted take on the deeper pathos of Greenberg. Married couple Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are firmly in the throes of a shared mid-life crisis. They're in their 40s and don't have kids, a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely given their advancing age and Cornelia's history of miscarriages. Documentarian Josh has stalled in the editing stages on his years-in-the-making, overly complicated, stuffily intellectual film. He hasn't completed a documentary in years and subsidizes his income teaching continuing-education courses on filmmaking. A 20-something couple turns up in one of his classes, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), with the former proclaiming himself a major fan of Josh’s obscure documentary work. Josh and Cornelia throw themselves into a friendship with the pair. Before long they’re partaking in events such as a rather reckless ayahuasca ceremony.

For awhile, this exploration of the generation gap and the extent to which it can be sidestepped is funny and realistically observed. Josh is forever seeking the approval of his father-in-law, noted documentary filmmaker Leslie Breitbart (a suitably gruff Charles Grodin). This results in a very interesting dynamic between Josh and Cornelia, who doesn’t seem overly sympathetic to her husband’s need to be seen as an equal by her father. But Baumbach has a few tricks up his sleeve that are a bit disruptive to the film’s overall tone. To reveal any of it would be dirty pool, but suffice it to say it seems as if Baumbach didn’t trust the value of his more straightforward, observational comedic insights. Plot mechanics end up getting in the way of the movie’s finer points, which is unfortunate considering Baumbach really seemed to be after something more than narrative sleight of hand.

Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presentation is rock solid, with Sam Levy’s cinematography looking clear and richly detailed. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio presents no issues. Where the disc comes up short is in the extra features department, considering there are only about ten minutes’ worth of promo material and nothing more. If you haven’t seen Baumbach’s Greenberg, get that instead. Or at least see it before While We’re Young.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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