03/25/15 8:36am
03/25/2015 8:36 AM |
photo courtesy of A24

While We’re Young
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Opens March 27

It might be the quintessential Noah Baumbach character: somebody deathly afraid of hanging around too long, and existing in an embittered, yet almost comically eloquent, state of regret and discontent. Baumbach’s films catch these hapless creatures at moments of reckoning, when their selective self-consciousness is only magnifying the distance between where they are and where they think they should be: the liberal-arts graduates of Kicking and Screaming lingering through summer into the beginning of another college year; Greenberg, the guy who stuck to his indie-band credo and then went nowhere right into 40; and the happily roommated and perpetually apprenticing dancer of Frances Ha. While We’re Young stars Ben Stiller as a filmmaker endlessly tinkering with a bloated unfinished documentary and wondering, with his wife (Naomi Watts), whether the “really not nervous” Brooklyn youngsters they befriend might have figured it out.

In Baumbach, the tendency to fear being lapped by life is just as closely connected to anxieties over achievement (rather than, say, money or class or ethnic difference) as it is to romantic desperation. The mindset has nearly become a writerly convention, a fiercely productive neurosis for throwing out observations, and it’s fascinating that While We’re Young begins with Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) trying to soothe their friends’ baby with a fairy tale they can’t remember—scrambling, in other words, not to lose their audience. When the baby’s parents return to the apartment, a volley of platitudes about capitulating to parenthood follow (“We’re just animals!”), but Baumbach swiftly turns his wit back on Josh and Cornelia back home, where they cherish their little-exploited freedoms as a childless couple. The film’s portrait of their new, chill friends—Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried as Williamsburgers Jamie and Darby—is likewise complicated by the fact that Jamie’s a kiss-up striver who probably knew that Cornelia’s father is documentary godfather Leslie Breitbart (a masterful Charles Grodin).

Josh and Cornelia rapidly go through the life cycle of embracing the habits (and hats and hip-hop classes) of their younger counterparts, with Baumbach efficiently poking fun at reflexive retro leisure pursuits, or rather at what the older folk notice about these strange and wondrous lifestyles. (Actually, one of my bigger laughs came not from the film but an audience member: When Jamie’s documentary subject turned out to be played by the ubiquitous Brady Corbet, some critic burst out uncontrollably with “Goddamn it!”) Taken at face value, While We’re Young is quite effective at expressing that what-next feeling of encroaching middle age, and the realization that the next generation is not exactly primed to be impressed by its predecessors, with the churn getting more rapid with each year. But in the milieu of a comfortable creative class—only Josh’s unpaid editor seems to worry about where the money will come from—isn’t this also equally a story of creative anxiety as it is about aging?

Baumbach’s self-proclaimed comedy of a marriage diverging and reconnecting is also a dramatization of a skilled screenwriter’s perpetual warring impulses between cynicism and the well-turned perceptive one-liner. Josh may have a clear conscience on his side with his six-hour-plus essay-doc treatise “about America,” but nobody wants to watch it, and he can’t finish it; concerning another filmmaker in the story, we hear the judgment that rings through the ages of creative endeavor: “I think he’s an asshole… but the movie’s pretty good.” No one owns experience exclusively in While We’re Young, and ultimately the attractions of talent wins out; growing up, such as it is, means accepting the beauty of the impurity inherent in art and life.

02/25/15 9:22am
by |
02/25/2015 9:22 AM |
photo courtesy of Sundance Selects

Wild Canaries is the third collaboration between husband-and-wife team Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal, following Gabi on the Roof in July (written and directed by Levine), in which they played a brother and sister, and Green (written and directed by Takal), in which she plays the potential other woman in his relationship. Here, they play Noah and Barri, an engaged couple, who find themselves fighting over money, work, real estate, and their relationship when Barri (but not Noah) begins investigating the possible murder of their elderly neighbor. Perched on the edge of reality and fantasy, Wild Canaries brings out intimate anxieties via low-budget screwball pastiche: a polished, effervescent riff on Manhattan Murder Mystery, transposed to Young Brooklyn, where the couple lives—for now. Wild Canaries opens February 25; Levine answered a few questions over email.


02/18/15 8:16am
02/18/2015 8:16 AM |


Quick Billy (1971)
Directed by Bruce Baillie
The South Dakota-born Baillie’s sweet films unfold like waking dreams. His hour-long opus of associations Quick Billy covers life cycles through overlapping sounds and images of things including ocean waves, moonlight, lovemaking, classical and jazz music, caged and wild animals, childhood photographs, and memories of the American West; these myriad simple gifts are gently offered for us to drift among. “Was thinking, why did I make Quick Billy?” Baillie writes by e-mail when queried about his film, which Anthology Film Archives will screen together with a related six-roll film correspondence between him and fellow filmmaker Stan Brakhage. “Seems to have been necessity, to explain my way through another mystery—as a poet must write the poem, or the farmer plant his pepinos and potatoes. Or as our friends the trees reach for the sky. Somehow we are asked for an explanation.” Aaron Cutler (Feb 20, 7:30pm at Anthology Film Archives’s “Essential Cinema”)

01/14/15 12:21pm
by |
01/14/2015 12:21 PM |
Photo courtesy of


Appropriate Behavior
Directed by Desiree Akhavan
Opens January 16


“I find your anger incredibly sexy.”
“I hate so many things, too.”

And on the other hand:

“Thank you so much for accepting my invitation.”
“Well, I couldn’t have refused even if I wanted to… all those people.”
“You’re right… I will invite them all to our wedding.”


01/14/15 12:16pm
Photo courtesy of The Film Arcade


Opening January 23rd, Song One is the feature debut from writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, who calls the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border home, and treats it lovingly in the film. Producer Anne Hathaway stars as Franny, a PhD candidate called back from the field when her busker brother slips into a coma; to bridge their estrangement, she retraces his steps, from the Bowery Ballroom to Pete’s Candy Store, taking in performances by Sharon Van Etten, Dan Deacon and the Felice Brothers, and befriending his idol, a singer-songwriter looking for a way around writer’s block (he’s played by the musician Johnny Flynn, though the songs Flynn performs in the film, on guitar and violin, were written by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice). I asked Barker-Froyland a few questions over email.