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'While We're Young' review: A tale told through generations

Noah Baumbach's comedy

Noah Baumbach's comedy "While We're Young" about an aging hipster (Ben Stiller) who gets charmed by a younger one (Adam Driver) is a little light on emotion, but its cultural observations are spot-on. How did the millennials get so artsy-craftsy, anyway? (Rated R) Credit: Jon Pack

Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young" is a modern fable set in the enchanted cultural kingdom of New York City. Here, Josh and Cornelia Srebnick, played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, are growing old without realizing it. Though pushing 45, they still waffle about having children. Josh, a documentary filmmaker, has been working on his magnum opus for 10 years. It is slowly dawning on them that time is their enemy.

How exciting, then, to fall in with two young, bona fide hipsters in Brooklyn, Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Jamie is a fan of Josh's work, or at least professes to be, and would love help with his own film. Josh pitches in, and the younger couple return the favor by opening up a new world of cool ideas. The Srebnicks feel energized and engaged -- at least until age-old problems like ambition and jealousy rear their ugly heads.

Writer-director Baumbach, 45, who is dating 31-year-old Greta Gerwig (star of his "Frances Ha"), may be drawing from real life for "While We're Young." His cultural observations seem firsthand and exceptionally keen, especially when he notes that everything old is new again: books, vinyl, handmade furniture, the songs of Lionel Richie. Even a trendy Ayahuasca ceremony -- where drugs are taken and epiphanies are had -- has a familiar ring.

"While We're Young" sometimes feels like a compendium of cheeky references. Josh's documentary echoes the one in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors." Charles Grodin plays a legendary filmmaker modeled after Albert Maysles; the real Peter Bogdanovich gives him an award. Josh's best friend is played by former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, and a ceremonial shaman is played by indie-rock veteran Dean Wareham. The original score comes from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.

Stiller and Driver are smartly cast as a pair of generational doppelgängers, but "While We're Young" suffers from a thin story revolving around Jamie's possibly fraudulent documentary. The film's main conflict isn't between the characters, exactly, but their philosophies -- Josh, of Generation X, believes in truth, while Jamie, a millennial, is a born relativist. Their final confrontation feels intellectually, rather than emotionally, satisfying. Still, "While We're Young" will strike a chord with anyone who knows what a drag it is getting old.

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