Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2014. Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by Noah Baumbach. Cinematography by Sam Levy. Produced by Noah Baumbach, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub. Music by James Murphy. Production Design by Adam Stockhausen. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Jennifer Lame. Toronto International Film Festival 2014. Gotham Awards 2015. National Board of Review Awards 2015.
Ben Stiller is a documentary filmmaker who has been working on the same unfinished project for a decade, earning a living by teaching a class on the subject. His wife (Naomi Watts) spends her career working for her famous Maysles-esque father (Charles Grodin) who is in the same profession but at a much more successful level (his films, for example, are in the Criterion Collection). They’re sliding comfortably past their youthful newlywed status and into middle age despite careers that don’t feel like they are soaring and the disappointment of having tried for children and failed, but things change when a young aspiring filmmaker (Adam Driver) shows up in Stiller’s class with his adorable wife (Amanda Seyfried) and they immediately become friends. Stiller and Watts have their connected, tech-heavy lives completely reversed by these analog hipster young’uns, attending drug retreats hosted by shamans who dole out Peruvian hallucinogens and abandoning their own peer-group friends (Maria Dizzia, Adam Horovitz) who have recently had a child and have become alienated from them. As time progresses and Driver becomes closer to Watts and Grodin, however, Stiller begins to realize that this young man is not randomly, passionately bounding through life looking for experience but is actually a calculated, ambitious user who is every bit as contrived as his entire generation’s cultural usage of fedora hats and vinyl records. Imagining All About Eve remade by Woody Allen might be a good overview of this blisteringly funny film, with drop-dead hilarious dialogue and visual puns (of course Driver’s smart phone has a cracked screen), but the potshots taken at the idealistic younger generation are not heartless or unfair (particularly in the film’s generous conclusion; Baumbach actually saves his only jarring and unkind caricature for the loony investment guy). Stiller gives his most grounded and intelligent performance yet as a man who is foolishly looking for authenticity in a world that is more interested in the people who are adopting authenticity as a stylistic choice, while Watts is delightful in the more thankless role as the gal who realizes well before her husband does that she is better off maturing to the next stage.