More views of – or before – Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
30 March (6, 7 April, Tweets added)
This afternoon, the plan is this, at @CamPicturehouse... :) pic.twitter.com/XCxZDfzdhZ
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 29, 2015
Whatever Noah Baumbach may have felt about Frances Ha (2012) when he had finished making it (in which Adam Driver (from this film) played Frances’ one-time flat-mate Lev), and whatever he may have felt when he knew how it had been / was being received, may have had no bearing on While We’re Young (2014) : one forgets the likely gestation of things (just as film-makers forget what we may notice about their technique), and unthinkingly wishes to see the next film as some sort of progression from what we previously saw.
For, if that were the reality of film-making, a linear succession of films (with no spurs, dead-ends, recursions), one would be tempted to say that this one is – for whatever reason – striving to be as little like Frances Ha as possible. That film has its nods, and, staying with Woody Allen, one now feels a touch of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) at times, but also of all of these, too, at others (in alphabetical order) :
Texting at the table is just the 21st century version showing your ankles in public. #WhileWereYoung https://t.co/xhF9aHQPOQ
— While We're Young (@WhileWereYoung) March 30, 2015
* Celebrity (1998) ~ Jamie Massey (Adam Driver) bears resemblances to Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh), with his opportunistic, if unfocused, ambitiousness (and to that of Oscar Isaac (as Llewyn Davis) ? – please see below)
* Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) ~ Josh (Ben Stiller) is, occasionally, a little in the vein of the character of Lester (Alan Alda), other times that of Cliff Stern (Woody Allen)
* Deconstructing Harry (1997) ~ Here, Josh mirrors what happens to Harry Block (Woody Allen), which is also at the time of someone being ‘honoured’
* The Double (2013) ~ On which we begin to converge
* The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) ~ Also played by Ben Stiller (as Walter), but on better form, and with a better version of this sort of ‘character-journey’ ?
* The Talented Mr Ripley ~ Please see next item
* The Way Way Back ~ Such seduction / attractiveness, but, from Sam Rockwell (Owen), in reverse, and not for ill – and also in and through the retro feel / ethos (rather than, say, invoking the analogue / digital paradigm of The Matrix (1999)…)
** Turtle Diary* (1985) ~ Shamanistic initiations (in Russell Hoban's (@russellhobanorg's)novel, it was rebirthing, probably little included in the screenplay (one forgets), by Harold Pinter)
What, then, would a film look like that had fragments of these other films embedded in it ? Well, one that is trying to find how character can drive plot, perhaps, since Frances depends, as well as on her (Greta Gerwig’s) relationship with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), on the personality of Frances, in relation to that of others, and the film’s direction arises from it. While We’re Young has a much more obvious story-line, which those who could not relate to Frances were presumably missing…
Know lots of u like While We're Young but for me it was full of false contrasts. I've been young + middle aged and recognised neither in it.— mark cousins (@markcousinsfilm) April 6, 2015
In the event, though, structurally – at the over-arching level – this film does still resemble Frances (or, equally, Deconstructing Harry) : the bulk of the film is, relatively speaking, at the microscopic level, but the coda (here, with an explicit statement as to the passing of time) puts it in a macroscopic context. One may remember, likewise, how Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) concludes, where Mickey and Holly’s (Woody Allen and Dianne Wiest’s) union is blessed with an unexpected pregnancy – or, even getting to that point, how their chance meeting in a record store is able to benefit both from the passing / healing of time, and by Mickey (who finds himself able to share it with Holly) having had an epiphany that has moved him on.
Films that do not do this (both Allen’s and those of others) may still do something that has a similar effect, i.e. of putting distance on what the rest of the film has depicted – staying with Allen, and giving another example from his canon, To Rome With Love (2012) starts with the perspective of the traffic policeman, who comes out of his role (directing the traffic) to direct us into the film. After immersing us in the action, Allen ends it with the viewpoint of the householder in another dramatic Roman location, overseeing the Coliseum, who gently reminds us that the four strands of story that we have seen are just part of what he could tell us another time. (Other films may be less explicit in so doing, using part of the language of cinema itself, by slowly zooming in on our locale at the beginning, and then, nigh ritualistically, by taking us back out again by way of conclusion – That's all, folks !)
What Noah Baumbach does with While We’re Young is to seek the same misdirection at the close as at the start (along with the literary red herring of Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder), coupled with – whether faked or not – a little piece of pure observation about where one generation puts itself in relation to another : how, in the face of the impact of technology*** (epitomized by such films as Her (2013)), sometimes the things that we have in common (as Joaquin Phoenix [Theodore Twombly] does with Amy Adams [Amy]) count for more than what might separate us, and so we are left with the incredulous gaze / expression of Naomi Watts.
Does the film try too hard to be more than one thing, and so dissipate its energies, because, by not being any one thing (arguably, since life itself is not any one thing), it ends up being not very much ? It certainly felt that it did, and it had stylistic features that made one question whether, when they appeared too obvious, they added not to feeling invited to relish the artisanal nature of the enterprise (and, with it, its status as a constructed reality), but, rather, that it was more amateurish in nature, and that Baumbach had employed techniques without (much) regard to what they would look like to those who saw (through) them :
* Such as the patent use of different people being in light and shadow, although in the same, ostensibly undifferentiated setting :
In While We're Young (2014), showing Ben Stiller / Adam Driver lit differently from Naomi Watts / Amanda Seyfriedstraightaway feels obvious
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 29, 2015
* Or the reaction-shots that foreground, bottom left or right (and extremely out of focus), what is sometimes no more than an impression of a sleeve or shoulder – almost as if to parody notions of what a reaction-shot is supposed to include (required by 'industry standards' ?) so that one 'knows' that it is one, but to do so in such a way that, if it is not meant to resemble on the fly documentary footage (after all, this is the genre of the film within a film – consistent with using that fast-pan onto Josh when he finds something on Google® ?), it looks incompetently done.
* Most curious of all, the scene at Lincoln Center when Josh confronts Jamie – a wide, low long-shot that, looking dead, has absolutely nothing going for it, either in itself, or within the edit. Suddenly, it feels that someone unused to making the impact of a setting tell (such as the scene behind the windows) has stepped too far back, and lost the subjects... Or as if it had not been deliberate to take it to use it, it had to be used for want of anything better.
If, though, one just unquestioningly consumes what is exemplified above in viewing the film, maybe the result is that one just dips in and out of Josh’s life as a more likeable and less fractured type of Inside Llewyn Davis**** (2013), which, conceivably, is Harry Block (from Deconstructing Harry) with the softer features that Stiller has as Walter Mitty ?
So – even if maybe for the wrong reasons (unless Baumbach is actually trying to please, and to work through theses – for an elite – about being mimetic in cinematic style / technique ?) – this is a film that does / can get one thinking : it has a slow-burn of a response, which, for others, persisted, beyond the immediate three hours afterwards, following Under the Skin.
Yet, unlike that dismayingly dazzling ending, the one here could be seen (in the same way that Frances 'deals with her issues') as normalizing the paranoia / projection that Josh vividly gives us (and which, although we may be slow to believe that Stiller is a film-maker (let alone Watts), we buy into, it must be said – which is the real power of the film), and endorsing a rather tame message that Time heals ?
* Frances and Sophie did make one laugh, whereas one is aware that Josh (Stiller), Cornelia (Watts), Jamie (Driver), and Darby (Seyfried) are (being) amusing ?
** There is some speculation, here, about a re-make :
In the media world, associates of @russellhobanorg have been busy... : http://t.co/XEsixgd8iu
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 30, 2015
*** The cover-all word (along with technological advance) that indulges / excuses everything, and makes it seem acceptable to be drawn into having the latest ‘device’ (another such word), rather than dismissing it as gadgetry ?
**** Another point of contact with Adam Driver, who there is Al Cody, Llewyn Davis’ friend / fellow musician.
If you want to Tweet, Tweet away here
Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)