While We're Young: Fun comedy on spirit of the age
If you think this enjoyable drama is just another sickly-sweet look at the generation gap, you'll be surprised, says Andrew Johnston
Just when you thought Ben Stiller had all but given up on delivering another engaging performance, he reteams with his Greenberg director Noah Baumbach for his funniest film in a decade. While We're Young is a Woody Allen flick, had Allen grown up in the 1970s rather than the 1940s. If not as dark or probing as the average Allen yarn - Baumbach isn't obsessed with his own mortality, for starters - it is insightful, acerbic and brimming with wit.
From the poster and trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in for another round of sickly 'parenthood drama', with slappable, navel-gazing Americans talking over the top of one another about their 'issues'. But While We're Young is smarter, more knowing and, crucially, more entertaining than that.
The story follows childless Brooklyn fortysomethings Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), who are rescued from a mid-life rut by trendy 25-year-olds Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried).
The neurotic, older couple are drawn in by their juniors' spontaneity, their love of vinyl and VHS tapes and, er, their cool refusal to pick up the bill at restaurants.
Josh and Cornelia begin the picture trying to look interested as their similarly-aged friends (including ex-Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz) enthuse about having kids.
Soon, they're wearing roller blades, attending hip-hop dance class and taking part in a drug-fuelled, shamanic vomiting ritual.
As the plot about aspiring documentarian Jamie shooting an experimental feature while fellow filmmaker Josh struggles to complete his own long-gestating venture unfolds, both generational groups are mercilessly mocked.
From Josh's aches and pains (a bike ride with his new BFF is cut short when he pulls a muscle in his back) to the hipsters' flatmate's ironic T-shirt slogans ('Some crappy band', 'Some college I didn't go to'), Baumbach's keen eye for detail makes sure there are plenty of droll chuckles throughout.
But there are no 'goodies' or 'baddies' in this tale. Baumbach seems to be saying we're all idiots, and While We're Young should have viewers of any age or background wincing.
Stiller - so long lumbered with blockbuster pap or bogged down in vanity projects - appears energised by the material, and is hugely likeable as the beleaguered Josh. He's matched by Driver, who judges the tricky role of Jamie just right. It would have been easy to play him as a monster, but Driver imbues the ostensible villain of the piece with a touch of the little boy lost, ensuring audience sympathy even as his motives take a turn for the sinister.
The female characters get shorter shrift, which is a shame, as Watts's ageing hippie chick and Seyfried's artisan ice cream-maker could definitely have used more screen time.
Still, it's nice to see the great comedian Charles Grodin back in cinemas. Now 79, the star of The Heartbreak Kid and Midnight Run remains adept with a pithy put-down, notably when he tells son-in-law Josh that the documentary he's working on is "a six-and-a-half-hour film that's seven hours too long".
Not as tragic as The Squid and the Whale or Margot at the Wedding, While We're Young harks back to Baumbach's earlier, simpler fare, such as Kicking and Screaming or Mr Jealousy, and is certainly more accessible than the writer-director's previous effort, the wilfully indie Frances Ha.
The movie straddles the fine line of being sharp enough to delight the arthouse set, while having enough scenes of Ben Stiller getting hit in the head with a basketball or knocking a tray out of a waiter's hands to amuse a multiplex crowd. It deserves to be seen by all.