Saturday, May 16, 2015

"While We're Young": comedy by Noah Baumbach creates conflict over the ethics inside documentary filmmaking


While We’re Young”, by Noah Baumbach is about filmmaking, ethics, truth, marriage, and morality, all in a 97-minute little New York comedy.
   
Josh (Ben Stiller), married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and still childless in middle age, teaches film and is trying to finish a 6-hour documentary about political power.  He has trouble telling people what it’s about, especially Cornelia’s dad, also a director Ira (Peter Yarrow).  One day they meet a couple a generation younger, Jamie (Adam Driver), also a documentary filmmaker, married to Darby (Amanda Seyfried).
  
Josh has told the class that documentary is about other people, while fiction is about the self.  He says that non-diction documentary should be about the self, too.
  
Jamie is quite flashing, warm, non-judgmental, and willing to look as free as necessary with the body art (temporary) on his forearms.  His documentary has to do with a soldier Kent (Brady Corbet) returned from Afghanistan.  He has a bizarre idea for how to pick subject other than himself, depending on real-world responses from old friends from surprise Facebook contacts.  In my own life, there are people who prefer everything be real world (no social media).  That idea creeps into the script. 

Their interaction gets quirky.  At one point, the two couples attend a purification ceremony in an apartment where everyone vomits after taking ipecac. 
    
Toward the end, there’s an ethical battle, as Jamie “falsifies” his own part of the story, setting up a confrontation at the climax of the film.  Finally, the issue of having children, and adoption, even from troubled areas of the world, surfaces. Do younger adults have a looser moral compass, depending on the idea of over-sharing and that "everything belongs to everyone?"  That does, for example, bear on copyright and piracy issues in film and music.  (At tone point, there was a quote of the infamous Karl Marx quote about abilities and needs, that got banded about in parody in the barracks in my own Army days.) Is any journalistic license allowed in reporting?  That sounds like the problems with Brian Williams, former and now defrocked anchor at NBC for "exaggerating" (although Williams isn't so young).  Journalistic objectivity is another good issue, in a society that sometimes needs people to take sides. 
     
The film uses a lot of Vivaldi, and some pop songs.  At one point, Josh seems to be singing to himself “I want to do it” in a theme that resembles the “I want to do you” from Modern Family (not credited).
  
  
The official site is here (A24 films).
    
I saw the film at the AMC Shirlington in Arlington before a small late Saturday audience.  Picture is mine, NYC, 5th Ave., Oct. 2014. 

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