“While We’re Young”, on Ciné+ Club: Noah Baumbach at Woody Allen’s school


No doubt this time: Woody Allen has made school. His most brilliant disciple is called Noah Baumbach, the director of opuses like The Berkmans break up, Greenberg or Frances Ha. Difficult to see While We’re Young not to think of the director of manhattan. Besides, Baumbach’s film could just as well have been called… brooklyn. The amateur of the great Woody will hardly be out of place.

From the beginning of the film, the cause is heard: a quote from Henrik Ibsen, taken from Solness the builder, a play performed for the first time in 1893 in Berlin. The story of an aging architect struggling with young colleagues, the confrontation between two generations caught in the mirror of the other. Woody Allen would have loved it. The sequel follows on from some of Baumbach’s earlier films, Greenberg especially.

A couple of 40-somethings, typical of today’s Brooklyn, Josh and Cornelia Srebnick (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts), are apparently happily married even though they have not been able to have children. Documentary filmmaker Josh is unable to finish editing his new film. A situation all the more complicated to live with as Cornelia is the daughter of a great documentary filmmaker, but Josh refuses to call on him to unblock the situation.

Incisive dialogues

Coincidence (or not), one day, Josh and Cornelia become friends with another couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), aged around 25. Effect of striking contrast: these young people with a taste for undertaking apparently without limits give the appearance of the most total freedom and spontaneity.

Small trendy restaurants, hip-hop classes for ladies, bike rides for gentlemen, discovery of ayahuasca (hallucinogenic preparation consumed by the Indian tribes of Amazonia) and the ritual ceremonies that go with it. Noah Baumbach enjoys (and we with) as a fine observer of the habits and customs of the white urban middle and upper classthe “whites belonging to the middle and upper class”.

And then, the film changes register. Josh, who never stops struggling with his editing, begins to doubt Jamie’s sincerity. Who is this former film student? A member of the lawless “Netflix generation” (if not his own)? And this father-in-law, who is celebrated at Lincoln Center, is he really this monk-soldier of cinema verité that he claims to be? The film then becomes grating, caustic. Ben Stiller and Adam Driver are remarkable finesse.

Incisive dialogues, funny ethnographic notations, it really feels like a Woody Allen. We regret the bias of Baumbach who, in this story, strives to favor male points of view. Much further back, Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried only appear more withdrawn.

While We’re Young, by Noah Baumbach. With Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried (EU, 2014, 97 min).

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“While We’re Young”, on Ciné+ Club: Noah Baumbach at Woody Allen’s school