It hits us all, that day when “hip” suggests “replacement” and “old man/old woman talk” enters our vocabulary. We scratch our heads and cope, with growing confusion, at the next generation’s values.
It happens to Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach’s biting and bitterly amusing “While We’re Young.” And not just to his character, Josh, a creatively blocked, once-hip documentary filmmaker, but to Stiller, the actor who just turned 49 and has finally mastered the stooped, bowlegged walk of his elderly father (comic Jerry Stiller).
Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) hurls youth right in the faces of a couple of New York artsy types – Naomi Watts plays Josh’s producer-wife, Cornelia – in the form of two generous and unambitious 20-somethings, “makers” who whip up their own ice cream, cobble together handmade desks and eschew pricey clothes, swank apartments and expensive toys in favor of tattoos, ancient IBM typewriters and lofts they can share communally with other people “in the moment.”
Josh is in slack-jawed awe of would-be documentarian Jamie (Adam Driver), who approaches him as a fan, gives him nicknames (“Joshy, Yosh”) and helps him pick out a hipster Homburg. The fact that Jamie married Darby (Amanda Seyfried) despite having no plan, no visible means of support, impresses Cornelia, too. They’re an antidote to their usual friends, couples who have “joined the baby cult.” Those folks (Maria Dizzia and Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz) are mystified at the transformation in Cornelia and Josh.
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As he proved in “Greenberg,” Stiller is a wonderful conduit for Baumbach’s ideas and pithy, witty dialogue. Josh leads his wife into group vomit “cleansings” with a con-man shaman and admits that “the only feelings I have left are ‘wistful’ and ‘disdainful.’ ”
And the young? They have it all, so comfy in their own skin they think nothing of dancing in drag bars, F-bombing each other lovingly and defusing any situation – even involving strangers – with “I love you.”
Stiller does that twitchy, bug-eyed fury thing, and Driver (“This Is Where I Leave You” and TV’s “Girls”) is a master of offhanded hip. Watts’ Cornelia hurls herself into the wide-eyed Darby’s hip-hop exercise classes, and Charles Grodin has his best part in years playing Ben’s much-resented legendary filmmaker father-in-law. That plays into the doubts Josh starts to develop over just how generous, original and “sharing” the succeeding generation really is.
“Young” is Baumbach’s most conventional film but also his most wholly realized, from a baby’s music box playing David Bowie’s “Golden Years” to the shrewd observations about what becomes of documentaries in an age “when people record EVERYthing.”
So gather ye tight jeans while ye may, hipsters. The prophet sees “relaxed fit” in your future.
‘While We’re Young’
Rated: R for language
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin
Written and directed by: Noah Baumbach