The generational divide between those approaching middle age and those in their twenties has always been very interesting to me. I suppose it’s because both sections in ones life represent a crossroads. The twenty something’s are just barely becoming adults and the forty something’s are just beginning to feel their age. There’s a moment in this movie where Naomi Watts’s character says something to the effect of “[This young couples] apartment is filled with all the things we once threw out.” In the movie itself that line doesn’t carry an enormous amount of weight, but from an outside perspective it’s remarkably profound. It really shines a light on the fascination with the retro and vintage that the so called Hipster sub-culture seems obsessed with. While I could drone on and on about the social and cultural meanings of the film let’s first take a look at the film itself and see how it holds up.
The plot of this film isn’t terribly complicated. You’ve got a 44 year old documentary filmmaker Josh, played fabulously by Ben Stiller, and his 43 year old wife Cornelia, played just as magnanimously by Naomi Watts, navigating their lives. They seem happy enough. They’ve got similarly aged friends, friends who have just had a baby no less, and appear to act their age, whatever that means. Everything feels hunky dory. While lecturing about documentary filmmaking Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and his young wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is naturally a huge fan of Josh’s films and Josh is captivated by the energy and fearlessness of this 25 year old spitfire. Josh and Cornelia are pulled into the lives of Darby and Jamie and seem very happy. They seem energized by their youthful compatriots and as such begin to change how they act, how they dress and the sorts of activities they take part in. As the film unravels we find that Jamie isn’t the loosey goosey free spirit he seems. He’s much more calculated and ambitious than Josh thinks, and Josh feels betrayed by this false persona he, by his own admission, fell in love with. For the character Stiller plays it’s an earth shattering revelation, but as the other characters in the film point out it’s not that big a deal. From there Josh and Cornelia have to confront their age, and find happiness with who they are, or rather who they’ve become with age. Like I said, plot isn’t really where this film shines. It’s these full, rich characters. That’s the hook here.
One of the things I most enjoyed about this film is that it put the Hipster mindset in the spotlight. It held it up for inspection. There’s a moment in the film when all our main characters are in a car together and Adam Drivers character mentions this hilarious song/video he saw on YouTube. Stiller’s character chuckles and says he remembers that from a commercial when he was a kid. Later Driver plays Stiller a song and Stiller remarks that he remembers a time when that song was just considered bad. Both of these moments capture the fascination that misty eyed twenty something’s have with the pop culture elements of yesteryear. What was originally bland and every day stuff is now looked it with a sense of wonder and reverie. Take that sentiment and couple it with and older generation looking back with nostalgia at the carefree attitudes of youth and you get a very interesting contrast. For the first two acts of this film you’ve got two couples who both admire each other for what they are, and what they aren’t. What I enjoyed most of all in the movie is that neither generation nor point of view is romanticized over the other. We’re not pushed to think that either generation has it right, or is better than the other. Both sets of couples are fleshed out, real people. While watching the movie I saw parts of myself, and parts of people I know in each character. They felt truly authentic. You understood these people and felt for them as they tried to figure out their lives.
I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It’s shot very well and with a great city like New York as your backdrop it’s easy to make each frame pop with life. The score is varied and interesting, and at times reminded me of something right out of a Wes Anderson picture. Director Noah Baumbach really did a knockout job with this picture. This is a movie about very real characters dealing with very real things. Though their trials and tribulations don’t have Earth shattering consequences it’s refreshing to see a film about genuine people. I left the theater feeling motivated and happy. What more could I ask for?