Ben Stiller

"While We’re Young," a new film by Noah Baumbach, chronicles the story of straight-laced, middle-aged couple as they dive headfirst into a midlife crisis after befriending a significantly younger couple.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of A24 Films | Daily Texan Staff

“While We’re Young” serves as an amusing and poignant satire of the hipster generation. It playfully mocks “artsy” New York millennials while exploring a range of more serious topics including midlife crises and the difficulty of making authentic, creative work. The acting, and particularly performances by Ben Stiller and Adam Driver, perfectly conveys the seemingly insurmountable generation gap between the young and old. Although it occasionally juggles too many themes at one time, “While We’re Young” takes a quirky, clever look at people who are determined to feed off each other’s energy.

Josh (Stiller), a documentary filmmaker, has spent eight years working on his masterpiece — much to the chagrin of his restless wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts). Their tedious life is interrupted when the pair encounter Jamie (Driver), who is a fan of Josh’s work, and his girlfriend Darby (Amanda Seyfried). The young couple are humorous flag-bearers for the middle-class hipster lifestyle: They collect vinyls, write exclusively with typewriters and believe the world is theirs for the taking. Josh and Cornelia, who seek to feel youthful again, quickly become obsessed with the young couple. When Josh begins working on Jamie’s new documentary, he discovers that Jamie’s seemingly authentic vision and overall genial attitude may
be misleading.

Director and writer Noah Baumbach knows how to use hipsters for hilarious comedy fodder. He doesn’t waste any of this rich material. Nearly every joke hits its target, whether Baumbach is employing physical comedy (Josh and Darby dancing frantically to hip-hop) or taking a more subtle approach (detailing Jamie’s arrogance and pretension). The strange world Jamie and Darby occupy is a huge comedic highlight. The film hits on all the stereotypes millenials tend to attract, but the digs never feel malevolent or overdone. 

Stiller gives a heartfelt performance as the ambitious Josh. His character’s obsession with finding truth and artistic beauty in filmmaking is inspiring, and his overall fear of failure feels sincere and urgent. Driver’s cocky attitude keeps the film moving, while his character’s self-confidence and sheer smugness make him fun to hate. Watts’ sympathetic character experiences incredible self-doubt in her life, especially as she starts wondering whether not having children with Josh was a missed opportunity. Seyfried charms as Jamie’s girlfriend — it’s intriguing to see a character come to grips with the notion that her entire lifestyle is just one, big passing fad.

“While We’re Young” attempts to explore many themes, and its narrative at times feels engaged in a balancing act. The film focuses on Josh and Cornelia as they worry about growing old and explore a younger, hipper world. Simultaneously, the story attempts to address the morals of documentary filmmaking. Josh cares about seeking the truth, while Jamie willingly manipulates facts for the benefit of an interesting story.

Although it’s interesting to see how filmmakers of two different generations tackle the same ethical dilemmas, the film’s transition from midlife crises to the ethics of filmmaking feels too sudden. Baumbach tries to give each plot equal focus, but the
combination isn’t smooth. They hardly mesh together, and the result feels rushed. The film’s narrative may have been cleaner if it had one theme to take a dominant role.

“While We’re Young” looks at the humorous rise of the hipster generation while also delivering touching messages about growing old and using art to find “the truth.” Although the film feels unfocused at times, the stellar comedy and richly drawn characters make up for that small shortcoming.


(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Vince Vaughn had something of a hot streak in the early 2000s, and it was one of those rare moments where a star’s schtick is perfectly utilized in several roles in just the right order. Flicks like “Old School,” “Dodgeball” and “Wedding Crashers” represent a golden age for the comedian, and his personality hasn’t been used so well in a film in a long time. However, “The Watch” practically nails it, bouncing Vaughn’s puppy-dog enthusiasm off of Jonah Hill, “Dodgeball” castmate Ben Stiller and Richard Ayoade to wonderful effect.

That central quartet makes up the film’s titular organization, founded by Stiller’s Evan after a murder takes place in the Costco he manages. Bob (Vaughn) mostly just wants a chance to revel in some male bonding, while Franklin (Hill) and Jamarcus (Ayoade) are just trying to find a way to fit in or keep themselves entertained. However, their small-time crime fighting is quickly derailed by a brewing alien invasion.

Clearly, the main appeal to “The Watch” is putting Stiller, Hill and Vaughn in a car together and letting them riff. Stiller is mostly asked to stick to playing the straight man, and he’s tightly wound here. Evan has a legitimate affection for the community he’s built a life in, and Stiller makes forming the neighborhood watch feel intensely personal to the character. Vaughn is very effective as well, and his full-speed-ahead exhilaration for whatever he happens to be doing at the moment is infectious.

Hill isn’t used as the hapless smartass he usually portrays, and he gets to play a much harder edge than normal as Franklin, a delusional and unapologetically sleazy dropout with aspirations of joining the police force. He gets some big laughs here, especially in a few brief back-and-forths with Vaughn, but the film’s MVP is easily Ayoade. His Jamarcus is almost a walking contradiction, timid but assertive, and Ayoade brings an unexpected strut to the film’s dynamics. He also gets the most interesting material to play, and he absolutely sells his character’s inner conflict.

“The Watch” is designed with corporate synergy in mind, and the film’s Costco setting allows for some fairly blatant product placement. However, the film isn’t content to simply be a long Tide commercial, and gives its central characters some genuine nuance and shading. The film’s attempts to get to the bottom of masculine insecurity and camaraderie are unexpected, and even if they’re not particularly original, it’s refreshing that the film is even trying. “The Watch” never overdoes it on the emotional beats, and deploys them well.

It’s been a summer that’s noticeably light on strong comedies, and the last truly funny wide release to hit multiplexes was probably “21 Jump Street.” “The Watch” is certainly no comedy classic, but it’s completely painless to watch, a frequently hilarious exploration of male bonding in the face of the apocalypse. There are certainly better films in theaters this weekend, but “The Watch” is so innocuous, entertaining and downright funny that it’s a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

Ben Stiller, left, and Eddie Murphy are shown in a scene from “Tower Heist.” Photo courtesy of Associated Press/Universal Pictures, David Lee.

Brett Ratner’s name often draws scoffs among filmgoers, as the director tends to ping-pong between lukewarm comedies (“The Family Man”) and overwrought thrillers (“After the Sunset”), not to mention single-handedly torpedoing the original “X-Men” trilogy with his third installment. However, Ratner seems to have found his niche with “Tower Heist,” a slick, twisty and genuinely entertaining heist film that’s easily his finest to date.

Taking timely aim at the financial elite, “Tower Heist” stars Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck and Michael Peña as employees at the Tower, a New York skyscraper that houses the richest of the rich, including Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). When Shaw is arrested and the staff, who have invested their pensions with him, learn their money is gone, building manager Josh Kovacs (Stiller) flies into a blind rage that gets him and his friends fired. Hungry for revenge, they enlist ousted tenant Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and local thug Slide (Eddie Murphy) to pull off a high-stakes robbery from Shaw’s penthouse apartment.

Like numerous heist films before it, “Tower Heist” relies strongly on the chemistry of its cast, and the Stiller-led ensemble doesn’t disappoint. Stiller is more likeable here than he’s been in years, and his straight-laced team leader makes for a cheer-worthy hero, especially when he proves to be unexpectedly sharp and capable under extreme duress. Eddie Murphy, freed from the layers of make up and morality that prevailed during many of his recent “contributions” to cinema, veers between energetically charming and confident and occasionally harsh and even a bit scary — definitely Murphy’s best performance since 2006’s “Dreamgirls.” The supporting cast, rounded out by Affleck, an affably defeated Broderick, Peña and “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe — packing a hilarious Jamaican accent — is grounded thanks to a genuinely touching performance from Stephen McKinley Henderson as Lester, an elderly doorman who loses his life savings to Shaw’s scheme.

Thanks to the vibrant energy among the cast and strong pacing from Ratner, “Tower Heist” moves fairly quickly, spending just enough time establishing characters and the geography of the Tower before putting them to the task of breaking into their former workplace. Murphy barely appears in the film for the first 40 minutes, but his entrance, as he teaches his co-conspirators how to steal, is hugely entertaining. The film doesn’t take too long before leading into its climactic heist, and Ratner finds a way to add some wrinkles to the plot, some expected and some genuinely surprising. However, the final moments trade plot and character for spectacle as the characters find their plan crumbling under them and have to improvise as the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade takes over the streets around them, making for some impressively-shot scenes that leave character development and logic behind.

One need only read the newspaper, with its talk of Occupy Wall Street and other political movements focused on the extreme upper class, to realize just how timely “Tower Heist” is, and the film will give many of those feeling the pressures of the times vicarious relief, if only for two hours. The film manages to bottle up all the resentment and anger of the current economic situation many are facing and convey it into a fun, relatively harmless comedy that brings Eddie Murphy back to being a funny, strong performer. For that, “Tower Heist” is easy to recommend.

Published on November 4, 2011 as: 'Tower Heist' uses cast chemistry to entertain