The Films of Noah Baumbach
Kicking and Screaming
The Squid and the Whale & Margot at the Wedding
Click here and here for reviews.
Greenberg (November 19/10)
A typically low-key effort from Noah Baumbach, Greenberg stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg - a 40-year-old failed musician who agrees to housesit for his brother immediately following a stint in rehab. After connecting with a few old friends (including Rhys Ifans' Ivan Schrank), Greenberg finds himself falling into an on-again-off-again relationship with his sibling's flighty personal assistant (Greta Gerwig's Florence). It's clear right from the get-go that Baumbach is looking to ape the feel of a '70s character study, as Greenberg has been infused with a palpably plotless atmosphere that's heightened by the almost exclusive emphasis on the protagonist's meandering exploits (and also by, of course, the film's unapologetically deliberate pace). And while the whole thing never quite becomes as fascinating or as relevant as Baumbach has clearly intended, Greenberg nevertheless manages to sustain the viewer's interest for the duration of its running time - with Stiller's impressively consistent performance undoubtedly playing a key role in the film's mild success. The actor seamlessly slips into the skin of a figure that is oftentimes almost exaggeratingly misanthropic, and it's subsequently (and ultimately) clear that Stiller's mesmerizing turn elevates the proceedings on an all-too-regular basis. The end result is a perfectly watchable piece of work that is, admittedly, a big improvement over Baumbach's previous movie, 2007's Margot at the Wedding, yet it's impossible not to wish that the filmmaker would try his hand at something other than a low-key character study.
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While We're Young (March 30/18)
While We're Young casts Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as Josh and Cornelia, a married couple whose routine, childless existence is shaken up by their newfound friendship with a pair of twentysomething hipsters (Adam Driver's Jamie and Amanda Seyfried's Darby) - with the film first detailing the changes Josh and Cornelia begin making in their relationship and, eventually, Josh's efforts at helping Jamie put together his documentary debut. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach has infused much of While We're Young with a loose, freewheeling quality that's impossible to resist, with the unusual dynamic between the movie's four protagonists undoubtedly going a long way towards perpetuating the compulsively watchable atmosphere. It's clear, too, that the picture benefits substantially from the virtually flawless performances among the quartet of stars, and there's certainly no denying the effectiveness and entertainment value of various sequences in which Josh and Cornelia attempt to ape the behavior and attitude of their younger cohorts. While We're Young's engaging, captivating vibe persists right up until around the one-hour mark, after which point the film's plot, spurred on by a fairly underwhelming twist, becomes far more conventional and predictable than one might've hoped - although, to be fair, the inclusion of a poignant last-minute conversation between Stiller and Watts' respective characters ensures the whole thing ends on a positive note. The end result is a typically erratic endeavor from a hit-and-miss filmmaker, with While We're Young's successful attributes ultimately outweighing its more overtly negative ones (and it really is a shame about that third act).
Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Mistress America follows plucky teenager Tracy (Lola Kirke) as she arrives for college in New York and quickly discovers that the people around her aren't quite as welcoming as she expected - with the character's respite eventually coming in the form of a freespirited, exceedingly off-kilter figure named Brooke (Gerwig). Filmmaker Baumbach does a fantastic job of drawing the viewer into Mistress America right off the bat, as the movie benefits substantially from Kirke's tremendously appealing turn as the compassionate central character - with Baumbach's emphasis on Tracy's trials and tribulations infusing the proceedings with an interesting (and often relatable) feel that proves impossible to resist (ie it's difficult not to sympathize with the protagonist's continuing efforts at fitting in). It's clear, too, that the affable atmosphere is perpetuated by the fun relationship between Kirke and Gerwig's respective characters, while the otherwise uneventful narrative receives a jolt of unexpected energy from Tracy's decision to pilfer elements of Brooke's life for a short story. The movie's slow-but-steady descent into irrelevance is triggered by a mid-film trip to the house of a rival, with the almost relentless quirk of Baumbach and Gerwig's screenplay growing more and more difficult to take. There's little doubt, as well, that the continuous lack of reality (ie it's all just so affected) prevents one from connecting to the more poignant moments that crop up towards the end, which, perhaps inevitably, cements Mistress America's place as a serious misfire from an excessively erratic filmmaker.