It should be noted, anyone who can get a movie made in this climate of super hero sequels and animated blockbusters deserves a pat on the back. That being said, it seems I'm definitely in the minority - given the adulation and praise his work normally receives -, when I say I simply do not understand what audiences, and, more to the point, critics, see in any of Noah Baumbach's films.
Greenberg (2010), which featured Ben Stiller as a failed musician who's left alone while house-sitting for his brother in L.A., was one of the most pointless studies in futility I've witnessed, and, although the acting was good, The Squid and the Whale (2005) was, in my opinion, another waste of time. Even The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which won Baumbach, and director Wes Anderson, numerous awards and accolades for its animation, was turned off halfway through due to droopy eyelids.
Before you come after me with the hi-brow, "You just don't appreciate character studies," defense - if, by character studies, you mean actors sitting in a room talking for two hours about nothing, I would have to agree. I readily admit I like movies where things happen. Unfortunately, the main issue I have with virtually all of Baumbach's films is simple: Nothing happens. All his characters seem to experience these incredibly earth-shattering transformations over a cup of decaf coffee, then the credits roll. There's a part of me that wonders if Baumbach's actually aware movies are supposed to entertain their viewers?
It's not that I don't appreciate movies that primarily feature one locale - both Reservoir Dogs and Hard Candy are classic examples of minimalist, low-budget-yet-enthralling film-making - it's that the writers of these films know how to grab a viewer's attention and keep it. As opposed to a Baumbach script, which follows its characters in real time; thus, by page 50, the protagonist's usually done nothing more than take a shower and eaten breakfast.
To read the praise heaped on Baumbach's work over the past few years by the critics - case in point, a review of his latest offering, While We're Young, currently enjoying a lofty 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, and which is perplexingly being called "brilliant" by The Guardian's Catherine Shoard -, reminds me of the children's fairytale, The Emperor's New Clothes.
My favorite word critics use when citing a movie from an otherwise boring director that us 'regular' folk may actually like is, accessible. As if most of us are too dumb to appreciate what's really going on in a film wherein pretty much nothing happens.
I will give him this: While We're Young at least makes a go of it, as the actors actually leave their apartments and venture outside, but, unfortunately, and this is the one area where I agree with Ms. Shoard, Baumbach appears to have combined two different movies; a 40-something romcom and what could have been a potentially intriguing drama.
The first half of While We're Young, which depicts Stiller and Naomi Watts as a 40-something couple who befriend a pair of Brooklyn-based 20-something hipsters, I found myself thinking this is just another attempt by a wannabe Judd Apatow trying to figure out yet another way to capitalize on the MTV generation realizing they're getting old. However, cookie-cutter it seemed to be, the fact that I was still awake an hour into it was a moral victory.
The second half takes the audience down a completely different road. (Spoiler alert)
One that made me feel the movie would've made for a much more interesting drama;
Older guy filmmaker with not much going on and his wife meet a younger couple they think is great. Older guy becomes bff w/ younger guy who, it seems, wants to be him in 20 years. Older guy slowly begins to realize everything the younger guy does is a calculated move to get to his wife's father - a legendary documentarian who attaches to younger guy's project. Younger guy turns out to be a sociopath and everything in his upcoming film - currently getting raves from previews - turns out to be a lie, putting the credibility/legacy of the elder filmmaker at stake.
This to me, would have been a much more interesting plot than another movie attempting to show us the generational differences between a record collection and an iPod. And, since when does hanging typewriters on your wall make you cool and hip? Is that the best Baumbach can do to depict bohemian Brooklyn's hipster culture?
While We're Young isn't a bad movie, especially for Baumbach, but I can't help but wonder, with each subsequent release, if Baumbach would have a career if he wasn't BFF's with Ben Stiller?
Overall, While We're Young follows in the footsteps of the majority of Baumbach's work, as it succeeds admirably in achieving its apparent goal of being yet another terrifically mediocre film.