Saturday, April 13, 2024

Toronto: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts in a Neo-Woody Allen World


Saturday in Toronto: Noah Baumbach’s last couple of movies are among my favorites ever– “Greenberg” with Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha” with Gerwig and Mickey Sumner, and his screenplay work for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Now Baumbach goes all neo Woody Allen in the very funny, adroitly observed “While We’re Young,” which opened with a bang last night at the Princess of Wales Theater.

Something about Baumbach’s writing brings out the best in Ben Stiller. This time lightning strikes for all four main actors– Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Driver. “While We’re Young” shrewdly satirizes the Lena Dunham generation of twenty-something Brooklyn, lower East Side slackers who feign indifference to success but are actually so ambitious for fame that they’ll do anything to get it.

Stiller and Watts are a long-married couple without kids, and happy that way. But then another couple has a baby and they are suddenly out in the cold as everything  becomes baby talk. At the same time, a Driver and Seyfried, married, in their twenties, very hip downtowners, come into their lives and their whole order of business is turned upside down.

But 44 is a lot different than 25, as they soon learn. And on top of just not being able to keep up physically– Stiller, for example, finds out he has arthritis in a very funny scene– there’s professional mayhem. Baumbach adds in a kind of “All About Eve” twist that will ring all too familiar for a lot of the audience. And that’s when things get interesting thanks to a not seen enough Charles Grodin as Watts’ legendary documentary filmmaker father (sort of a DA Pennebaker, Richard Leacock character).

“While We’re Young” hinges on an incident that has echoes (but is different) of “Broadcast News.” Suffice to say, this is a smart comedy very much in the vein of later Woody Allen. All the acting is superb, including Beastie Boys performer Adam Horovitz (whose dad is playwright Israel Horovitz) who makes a nice feature film acting debut.

PS For Toronto, this is Naomi Watts’s second big success after her hilarious Russian hooker in Barry Levinson’s terrific “The Humbling.” It’s about time.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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