Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” was selected as the most-anticipated film at TIFF in a poll by ScreenCrush’s Mike Ryan last week. It wasn’t too surprising, given the love for Baumbach’s previous TIFF triumph “Frances Ha” and the reunion with his “Greenberg” star Ben Stiller. Now the film has played at TIFF, and it looks like most critics weren’t let down by Baumbach and Stiller’s latest.
Some have called the film his most broadly appealing outing yet, though Todd McCarthy seems to doubt whether it’ll find a wide audience, and Richard Lawson (one of the critics who voted for “While We’re Young” as one of his most-awaited) felt the film faltered with its third-act move towards convention. A handful of other reactions on Twitter this morning following a more recent screening ranged from mildly disappointed but positive (David Ehrlich claimed it “has some of the best & worst stuff of Baumbach’s career, often in consecutive scenes”) to outright dismissive (Scott Tobias said the film “falters badly,” while Mike D’Angelo sarcastically compared it to bad Neil LaBute).
But overall reactions range from warm to effusive, with reviews praising Baumbach’s balance of generational conflict and awkward humor. Stiller’s work as a middle-aged documentarian who befriends a younger filmmaker (Adam Driver) is being singled out as some of the best of his career. For anyone who yearns for the Stiller of “Flirting with Disaster” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” rather than the guy from “Night at the Museum,” this ought to be a welcome return to form.
Peter Debruge, Variety
By contrast, Baumbach’s pic looks bright and ebulliently dynamic. He, too, is channeling earlier helmers, of the Hal Ashby/Mike Nichols/Paul Mazursky variety, though more in spirit than in style. Baumbach’s script crackles with life, delivered by actors just right for their roles. Stiller and Watts not only show convincing chemistry — the sort that can sometimes be conveyed with as little as a glance between them — they also demonstrate that while this industry often ignores actors past a certain age (as it has Grodin), these two are richer and more layered now than ever before. Middle age is like a foreign country, Baumbach seems to be saying, and some day, if it hasn’t happened already, we wake up there and realize we don’t speak the language. Read more.
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
Baumbach’s film isn’t an indictment of those in their 20s, or about contemporary filmmaking, and he has plenty to say about the folly of those in their 40s who believe they are owed something simply for being around longer. There is a ruthlessness in Jamie that is perhaps ugly, but has been no less effective in putting him on the road to success that Josh aspires towards, but refuses to embrace except on his own unique set of terms. Even Josh’s father-in-law believes Josh has always lacked the killer instinct to get ahead. Again, perhaps it’s generational divide that allows Jamie the permission to play fast and loose with people and friendships to move up the ladder, or maybe he’s just an asshole. Baumbach leaves it for you to decide, but doesn’t given any of his characters an easy out for their successes or failures. Nor does he argue that the creative template espoused by Josh leads to anything more honest or honorable as Jamie’s trickier juggling act with facts and storytelling devices. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Mainly the movie offers Stiller his best role in years, giving him room to play around with a wide-eyed, paranoid temperament. An early scene in which the older couple join their new friends for a misconceived New Age-y drug trip lets the actor show off his penchant for being silly and deeply human at the same time, as does another standout bit where he meets with a potential financier half his age and struggles for attention. Read more.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
Getting old sucks, and “While We’re Young” is honest, and hurtful, and sometimes deeply relatable on that fact. But, there’s a way to get old that doesn’t really suck, which is to try, as best as one can, to avoid the trap of blaming younger people for your own disappointment. “While We’re Young” is wise to that trap, but sadly falls into it anyway, Baumbach seemingly unable to resist the urge to chide youngsters for not valuing the things he values in the same way that he values them. Which is disappointing, as is the film’s tidy, awkwardly traditional end. Who would have guessed that, after all that insight and itch, Noah Baumbach would someday become an appeaser. That hasn’t fully happened yet, but “While We’re Young” is a move toward a time when ease is prized above edge, and the conventions once worth skewering start to show their appeal. Read more.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Noah Baumbach deals with such issues as mid-life marital strife, generational envy, truth telling in documentaries and the feeling of life and career passing you by in the mostly engaging but only fitfully inspired serio-comedy “While We’re Young.” Given that he so winningly observed the twentysomethings who populated his wonderful last film, “Frances Ha,” it’s surprising that the writer-director has more trouble coming to terms with his own generation here, as represented by Ben Stiller’s neurotically frustrated New York documentary filmmaker and Naomi Watts’ betwixt and between wife. The appealing cast will attract a measure of major market specialized audience attention, but the film is neither sufficiently funny nor emotionally involving to engage a broader audience. Read more.
Catherine Shoard, The Guardian
Given the richness of many of Baumbach’s previous female characters, Watts and Siegfried get slightly short shrift by comparison. The former is back on track after a misjudged turn as a pregnant Russian prostitute in Bill Murray comedy “St. Vincent,” but Seyfried – in a role apparently written for Gerwig – feels vaguely discordant, more valley girl that boho chick. A line in which she reveals to Cornelia – en route to a hiphop class – that she likes kids “who don’t speak English” – would have benefited from a yet more earnestly conceited delivery. Read more.
Christopher Schobert, The Film Stage
As the film’s final section makes clear, it is, then, a film about coming to terms with aging, learning how to adapt to changing times, and feeling not threatened by youth, but inspired by it. “While We’re Young” ends on a note of real character growth, and earned emotional development. It is here, especially, that the film’s level of maturity and its skill at observing the realities of adulthood are most impressive. Admittedly, much of this is thanks to the performances, especially those of Stiller and Watts. In many ways, Josh is the anti-Greenberg, likable where the latter character was (wonderfully) off-putting, delivering one of the actor’s best performances. Read more.