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The other day, I ran a review of one of only a few films I have seen this year that I would already consider among the best of 2013: Frances Ha. It’s also one of those movies worth re-watching during its theatrical run, which began on Friday. But between writing the review and fretting about other writing assignments, I decided to squeeze in one more project: talk to the filmmakers behind the movie. When I inquired, it would turn out the studio, IFC Films, had been lining up phone interviews for the near future with the film’s star and co-writer, Greta Gerwig. A few pitches later, and I found myself second in line for a 15-minute chat with her. “Miami New Times” took the feature piece I wrote as a result. You can read it by jumping through the logo for “Cultist,” the alternative weekly’s art and culture blog; here’s a the link:

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Of course, I am always left with extra bits of my conversations with my subjects, so here are some outtakes that cover how she and Frances Ha director/co-writer Noah Baumbach started writing the film, her feelings about being one of the pioneers of the mumblecore film scene and a little exchange about Whit Stillman, who directed her in Damsels In Distress, and was one of my more recent subjects (A cup of coffee in which director Whit Stillman and I reconsider my negative review of ‘Damsels In Distress’).

Hans Morgenstern: Is it accurate to say that you and Noah began writing this script when he sent you some emails asking you about your generation after you had completed Greenberg [their previous film together; Read the review here: Greenberg: The Great Projector]?

Greta Gerwig: He emailed me, and he asked me if I wanted to write something together that I could play and that he would direct. And that was the first interaction. Then I sent him a list of ideas that I had, which weren’t specifically about my generation. They were just character ideas, moments, small exchanges of dialogues or scenes or something I thought could go into a movie and some of those made it into the final movie and it was about three pages long, and he liked it. He added to it, and we just started writing scenes, and that was really how it began and how it developed. Most of it was written apart, in terms of the actual writing. It was sort of scene by scene, and we switched them off, but it was a slow process. It was about a year, and then, once we had a script, we did it as perfect as we could get it. Then we went figuring out how to shoot it.

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You had your start in some of the indiest of indie films, which even frustrated some art film critics. I remember [“Film Comment” critic] Amy Taubin said she hated mumblecore (“Mumblecore: All Talk? Pros and Cons of the Much-Hyped Neo-Indie Movemenr”)

(Giggles) Yeah, she did not like it, but we’re friends now.

Did she revisit her analysis of those films at all?

No, I think she still hates those films, but she likes Frances, so she’s come around, I guess. But I think she still hates those films, which is totally fine. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.

My wife likes them, but I too don’t care for them, I have to admit.

That’s the thing about this, you’ll never make anything that will get a hundred percent approval, as much as you might want it (laughs).

Then you worked with Ti West and Noah. Did you feel you were on another sort of playing field with these directors?

It definitely felt like … it was such an interesting process of how I got to have the career I have, and I’m so grateful to all these different people at different moments I worked with who’ve taken me on as an actor and really taught me a lot. I feel very lucky. I would say the biggest difference is that when I was doing movies with Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers, they were so improvisation heavy, the Duplass brothers a little less so than Joe, Mark Duplass and Greta Gerwig in Hannah Takes the Stairsbut those movies, I was almost writing while I was speaking, I was figuring out what the scenes should be and then executing them while I was playing with scenes and that was actually great because it felt really free, and it felt like I got to work out a lot of ideas, and see how things played and almost experiment on camera, but then with Ti and with Noah and with Woody Allen and with Whit Stillman and Arthur and all the other films that I did since, as soon as I had a script-script, that was the departure and executing jokes and getting rhythms perfect, really find the art in the structure, and I think I really— at this point— I enjoy that a lot more. It’s not that I’ll never do the other thing again. It’s just I feel like I really did it for a while, and I just kinda wore thin on it, and I feel like, right now, as a writer, I like to make things as perfect as they can be, working with great writing, and as a viewer I like to see great actors execute great writing, but that might change for me. I might step back from that later and feel I like another thing, but I feel like one of the nice things of getting to do this for a while is I feel like I passed through a phase of my artistic interest, and I’m not as interested in that anymore.

I recently had a nice long lunch with Whit Stillman when he was in Miami.

Oh, I love Whit!

We had a fantastic couple of hours where we discussed my mixed review of “Damsels” which I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for over time.

Yeah, he’s great. He reads every single review, so I’m sure he read yours (laughs). He’s very, very engaged with his own critics, which I think it totally suits him. He’s good at that.

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Hans Morgenstern

Frances Ha runs 86 minutes and is rated R (frank talk, including sexuality). It is now playing at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 in Miami Beach. IFC Films provided an on-line screener for the purposes of this review. It arrives in West Palm Beach on May 31 at Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Regal Delray. Late next month, it will arrive at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Nationwide screenings dates can be found here.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

frances-ha-posterDirector Noah Baumbach is one of the most honest filmmakers working today. Often quixotically summed up as misanthropic or angst-ridden, Baumbach’s films actually feature an astute sense of humor that is not afraid to explore the deep emotional wounds we incur while growing up. It’s a difficult thing to turn humorous, and he has always handled it with masterful finesse.

Baumbach has directed films starring Ben Stiller (Greenberg, see my original review: Greenberg: The Great Projector) and Nicole Kidman (Margot at the Wedding). His screenplays stand out as offering refreshing new challenges to stars like Stiller and Kidman, who sink their teeth into these titular characters with heavy, damaged personalities to sometimes disturbing lows while offering a mordant sense of humor. It’s a fine line to walk as far as entertainment, but it’s a testament to his craft that he can attract such figures to his work despite the rather dark humor.

With Frances Ha, Baumbach finally seems to reveal a lighter touch. The film follows a young woman (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script) learning to let go of her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter) frances-ha-still-3while figuring out how to make her own opportunities in her career choice: modern dance. The film is a testament to the oft-neglected stage of growing up in one’s later years, sometimes referred to as the quarter-life crisis. It’s not far off the mark from what makes the current buzzy HBO series “Girls” so popular, but Frances Ha is much more tidy and heartfelt. It has a charm influenced beyond concerns of the current generation usurping interest in current media. Both French New Wave and early Woody Allen are more relevant as influences than Gen Y malaise.

Maybe it’s the luminous black and white cinematography and setting, but a comparison to Allen’s Manhattan would not fall far from the mark. However, it’s how Baumbach has channeled French film— from Nouvelle Vague influences to a contemporary master— that will appeal to most cinephiles. Over all, 87the film has a tone recalling the bright but resonant personal dramedies of François Truffaut. Then there are specific scenes that pay conscious tribute to the wardrobe of Bande à part by Jean-Luc Godard and the more contemporary Leos Carax, involving the hit David Bowie song “Modern Love” and Frances running in the street, a la Mauvais sang.

More subtly, Baumbach employees a smart soundtrack featuring music by Georges Delerue, whose scores accompanied many films of the French New Wave. Witty cues and flourishes pepper the closing of many scenes in distinct homage. However, beyond the black and white cinematography and the music, the nostalgia ends there. In fact, it’s representative of the titular character’s condition who has found herself in a rut because she cannot seem to let go of her own past. Her inner child still seems to claw its way out from inside her despite put downs from a friend who blithely calls her “undatable” and a boss who has grown tired of stringing her along for some permanent position in a dance company Frances seems only half-invested in.

Gerwig dives into the character physically and facially. With her forced smile, raised eyebrows and furrowed brow, she plays Frances with an awkward charm that buoys her throughout the film’s many dramas. frances-ha-580Frances is so desperate for relevance, as her friends seemingly glide through life, be they “artists” with indulgent parents or lucky career climbers, she decides to charge a weekend trip to Paris, so she might “grow” a bit. Succumbing to jet lag and a friend who won’t answer her phone calls, the highlight of her trip may have been catching Puss in Boots in a movie theater off the Champs-Élysées.

As with any Baumbach film, the director knows how to pile on the witty, if sometimes sardonic, scenes at a break-neck pace. But the reason the script, which Baumbach co-wrote with Gerwig, feels so smart is not that these are jokes looking for easy laughs. They provide a charming avenue to develop Frances’ character while also making her relatable. The audience is not meant to look down at her state of arrested development but sympathize with it. The film has a wonderful way of piling on the moments of fleshing out the character without feeling redundant and still upping the stakes of the drama as her career becomes on the line, and her friendships drift away. It’s a valid fear everyone knows.

The brilliance of the film is how it can take a character in such a state and make it not only entertaining but also earn a sense of hope in the end. As much as she loves having friends and cannot seem to let go of her appreciation for animated movies (She says, “Animals have to talk or be at war for a movie to be interesting,”) or play fighting in the park, any growth ultimately has to come from within. You can give as much affection to your friends as you want but never neglect the friend you should be to yourself.

Hans Morgenstern

Frances Ha runs 86 minutes and is rated R (frank talk, including sexuality). It opens today, May 24, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 in Miami Beach for its South Florida premiere run (IFC Films provided an on-line screener for the purposes of this review). It also appears in West Palm Beach on May 31 at Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Regal Delray and Cinemark Palace. Miami will see AMC Sunset Place adding the film to their line-up on May 31, also. Nationwide screenings dates can be found here. Update: “Miami New Times” has published my interview with the star of this film here (that’s a hot link; more on this to come). Update 2: Frances Ha will arrive at the Miami Beach Cinematheque Friday, July 5. Update 3: Frances Ha finally arrives in Broward County thanks to the Cinema Paradiso starting Friday, July 12. Update 4: Frances Ha has also made its way to O Cinema beginning Thursday, July 4.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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At the end of June Spanish filmmaker David Trueba was in Miami to present his new film Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. I spoke to him via phone to discuss all the prestigious awards the film has won and how both John Lennon and the little known Spanish school teacher who met him inspired the film. The younger brother of Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque), David seems incredibly grounded, and he brings that humility to his film craft.

Though it won six Goyas (Spain’s equivalent to the Oscars) in major categories, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, which Trueba wrote, the filmmaker maintains a healthy perspective on his film beyond the awards. “I try to do the film the way it needs to be done,” he declares, “so the awards for me are always a surprise and encouragement to keep doing what you have to do than compromising to whatever is the current fashion of film.”

He says his main source for inspiration comes from people, an apt detail considering the humanity at the heart of this film, which never feels overshadowed by both the celebrity of Lennon, who is never depicted on screen, nor the ominous shadow of Franco that feels ironic during the heyday of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Trueba says when he learned of Lennon’s presence in the narrative of his country it came as a surprise, and it sparked a curiosity that led to this film. “I’m usually attracted to characters more than plots or histories or anecdotes,” explains the filmmaker, “so in this case, I remember I was on holiday in the South of Spain, in Almeria. It was 2006, and they were presenting a monument to John Lennon, explaining he was there shooting a movie in 1966 [How I Won the War].”

Trueba notes Lennon was at an interesting place creatively, a bit exhausted with the fame of the Beatles and turning to acting to try something different. “He was very isolated at the time,” says the director. “He just finished a long, long tour with the Beatles.” However, the filmmaker never wanted to explore Lennon’s specific experiences in Almeria. He was more interested in presenting it as a backdrop to the adventures of a trio of characters who road trip to meet Lennon.

The travelers are composed of 18-year-old Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), who ran away from home after his father threatened cut his mop top; a young, pregnant woman (Natalia de Molina, who won Best New Actress Goya) looking for safe passage to her mother’s house; and the film’s lead: a bald, slightly chubby, bespectacled teacher named on Antonio (Javier Cámara, who won the Best Actor Goya). Antonio is based on a man some img1hardcore Beatles fans may know as a footnote in Beatles history: Juan Carrion. Trueba explains Carrion’s significance:  “He was teaching English with the lyrics of the Beatles, and he just made the trip to get to know John Lennon and ask about some lyrics he couldn’t understand, to translate, and at the same time forced John Lennon to put the lyrics on the albums because he was explaining to him that that was very important to him to motivate young students to learn.”

Trueba’s decision to create a fictional version of Carrion, who he notes only recently turned 90, and has become a friend, comes from the idea that the director did not to feel restrained by a slavish commitment to history, which might undermine his film’s message. “That was just a decision I made from the beginning because I didn’t know the guy,” says Trueba. “I was more interested in the story as a metaphor, and I didn’t want to make a story about this guy and investigate his personal life … and I didn’t want to make a film about John Lennon. I only wanted to use Lennon’s presence to illuminate the characters, the Spanish characters. I’m not trying to make a documentary of him or a biopic of him.”

Real life, however, still informs the movie on other levels. Fitting to Trueba’s interest in the more abstract elements inspiring his movie, the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” has an important presence in the film. It’s as witty as a shop keeper offering Antonio a giant crate of surplus strawberries for his road trip, but also as resonant as the film’s title, which alludes to a lyric in the song. The revelation that Lennon composed the song while shooting How I Won the War with director Richard Lester is a little-known fact. “At the time, [Carrion] didn’t know that Lennon was composing or had composed ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in Almeria,” notes Trueba, “and even Richard Lester, the director of the original movie they were shooting there. He got in touch with me after seeing the movie. He didn’t know that Lennon composed ‘Strawberry Fields’ during the shooting. That was something Lennon explained before he died in some interviews, so I use all these coincidences to make a stronger and more real film.”

You can read much more of my chat with Trueba on this film and see it’s trailer, by jumping through the Cultist logo below, where I first covered Trueba’s visit to Miami:

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Hans Morgenstern

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed is now playing at the Coral Gables Art Cinema through July 17. Visit gablescinema.com for details and tickets.

Update: The movie expands to O Cinema Miami Shores Thursday, July 17. Visit o-cinema.org for details and tickets.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

LeWeekEnd-posterThe depiction of love in movies often feels unfulfilling to the older movie-goer or anyone, for that matter, with true experiences in long-term relationships. Hollywood has a knack for making weddings part of the climax in films about relationships. Anyone who has had a wedding knows they are but a momentary blip in life. The real tricky part is capturing a semblance of the ever-complicating life shared between those who have been married.

Le Week-End director Roger Michell (the man behind both Notting Hill and The Mother) has many years exploring love in the movies. Armed with a screenplay by novelist Hanif Kureishi, he probably has not handled the subject more delicately or subtly until now. British couple Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) are looking to rekindle romance in Paris by returning for a weekend to stay at the hotel where they first spent their honeymoon, 30 years ago. She bounces between raging frustration with him and flighty spontaneity. He can hardly keep up and has his own quiet, sheepish frustration that he tends to keep bottled up. In one meek attempt to seduce her, Nick reaches out and she flinches. “Why won’t you ever let me touch you?” he says.

She responds, “It’s not love. It’s like being arrested.”

They fight and argue a lot from one scene to another. During many transitional edits, the film and, by association, the couple seem to reboot. Romantic jazz music, featuring stride piano and plucky acoustic guitar accompanies the fade-in to these new scenes. The two distinct instruments call and respond. It almost mirrors the to and fro of the couple’s often opposing perspectives. It’s not discordant, however. There’s harmony but also conflict with in these distinct characters (I’m referring to both the instruments and the couple). It’s a witty musical representation of the couple. It’s hard to note this jazzy score by Jeremy Sams and not allude to a comparison to Woody Allen’s work as a director, who also has long presented a fine-tuned concern of romantic relationships on the rocks.

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Another, more grim comparison could be to Before Midnight (Film review: ‘Before Midnight’ offers original glimpse of love evolved). With its extended scenes of sometimes passive-aggressive tension between its characters (when anger and resentments are not directly being flung at the other), Before Midnight can feel difficult to endure, as conversations spiral into full-blown operatic emotional battles. Le Week-End, on the other hand, knows how to keep the conflict in check with tidy scenes that build toward the fateful appearance of a third wheel played by an exuberant Jeff Goldblum. His character brings some refreshing perspective for not only Meg and Nick but also the viewer.

It could have been tiresome to just follow this antagonistic husband and wife for the entire film. Thankfully, Morgan appears to not only infuse some life into the film but also a deeper tragedy. Goldblum brings vibrant energy to Morgan, a former student of Nick’s who has had more success with his writing than his teacher. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????He also happens to live in Paris with a younger, pregnant wife. Though he seems to be doing well, he credits the dreary, serious Nick as an inspiration. “Over the years that I’ve sat at desks like this,” he says after inviting Nick into his fancy study overlooking the Eiffel Tower, “and in the times when I’ve tried to convince myself that I’ve had some kind of brain or just a little bit of rigor or integrity … I would think what would Nick Burroughs do now?” This weighs heavy on Nick, who happens to be a philosophy professor, not just as a compliment but a terrible burden of possibility.

Morgan has invited the couple to his spacious apartment for a dinner party with artists, writers, scholars— a veritable cornucopia of intelligentsia. But just when you think the director has inserted Morgan as some mirror character of possibilities, the film gifts us a confessional moment by Morgan to Nick. He says of his young wife, “She can’t see through me yet. I mean, she will,” Morgan says as he nervously chomps on an hors d’oeuvre, his eyes flitting about in a perfect Goldblumism.

Meanwhile, a younger Frenchman chats up Meg. With little to gain from this flirt, she quickly reveals her morose character, talking about her “fury, dissatisfaction and the clock ticking by.” But, oh, these French people. He’s still taken by her. “What a great thing,” he tells her with a pensive smile, “to be so attuned to your unhappiness.”

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Still, thirty years of marriage matters for something, and the film, for all its bitterness and conflict, also subtly reveals slight but precious moments shared by Meg and Nick. Though they never seem to notice it themselves, the partners reveal similar habits, like when they wipe their eyeglasses at the same time at the table with their dinner napkins. Thankfully, the director does not try to highlight these moments heavy-handedly.

Underneath the explosive bitterness, the big value of the smaller things shines through and ultimately bonds Meg and Nick, and it makes the film a much nicer pill to swallow than most such movies. For all its seeming indulgence in the misery of this couple, Le Week-End turns out to be a delightful film. Communication opens up, and as much as this couple pushes so hard to move forward during a time when they should be just settling in, it is indulging in a bit of nostalgia that always seems the best cure for them. That the film ends with an even grander and more resonant reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part than the delightful, though comparatively naïve Frances Ha, gives the film’s finale an extra punch. Fine, it’s work to make a long-lasting marriage work, but a bit of honesty to oneself and some confidence can go a long way to submit to the humbling power of a bond for a life shared together.

Hans Morgenstern

Le Week-End runs 93 minutes and is Rated R (mature language and sexual problems). Music Box Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It opens in South Florida on April 4, in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area at the Regal South Beach 18, AMC Sunset Place and The Classic Gateway Theatre. On April 18 it expands northward to West Palm Beach, at the Regal Shadowood, Living Room Theaters, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth and Downtown Gardens/West Palm Beach. It already began playing in other parts of the U.S. and has more dates scheduled through May; visit the film’s official webpage and click on “theaters” for more screening dates.

Update: Le Week-End will enjoy a brief weekend run at the Bill Cosford Cinema, Friday, May 16 – Sunday, May 18. Screening details.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

image002Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s insights into human behavior seem to grow more astute with every film he makes. Somehow he finds charms in the flaws of people and transmits a keen sense of empathy to the audience. Baumbach and his screen-writing partner Greta Gerwig have crafted us a peculiar but endearing young woman with questionable social skills in Mistress America’s 18-year-old Tracy (Lola Kirke). Speaking to her mom via phone not long after she has started class at Barnard, Tracy gripes about her difficulty making friends. “It’s like being at a party where you don’t know anyone all the time.”

“That sounds uncomfortable,” responds her mom. There’s something really funny in this exchange but also canny. The parent states something obvious, informed by experience. It leaves her daughter even more isolated and warmer to the audience. We also don’t understand Tracy’s troubles in making friends, which, as the movie progresses, will become more clear. But even in her social awkwardness she will continue to become more endearing, all the way up to a key confrontation that will have some questioning whether Tracy may be a sociopath.

Her mother suggests she call up the daughter of the man her mother is about to marry, Brooke (Gerwig), an older young lady (she’s 30) who may soon become her step-sister. One day, after eating an entire pie by herself at a diner, while Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights” is spilling from a tinny speaker, Brooke stares down at the cracked screen of her iPhone 3GS. She dials Brooke and leaves a message. Brooke calls back seconds later and so begins a strange, screwy adventure about chasing dreams at oscillating levels of maturity.

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Baumbach is at the top of his game working with Gerwig. A lightness pervades this film, similar to their fitst collaboration, Frances Ha (Film Review: ‘Frances Ha’ reveals Noah Baumbach’s luminous lighter touch). So the script is smart, but it wouldn’t be a complete package without supporting cinematic elements. New collaborators include the duo Dean & Britta of Luna fame, who have produced a bubbly, new wave soundtrack for the movie. But he’s also working with Sam Levy again who lenses a gorgeous New York City. However, nothing is about the surface in a Baumbach film. There’s a reason it takes Brooke an uncomfortable amount of time to walk down the Times Square steps with arms outstretched to greet Tracy waiting below. It’s a quirky set-piece that speaks to shaking off illusions of romance that Baumbach traffics in so well.

Ultimately, it is the screenplay that makes this movie, and I sense awards in its future (if there be justice). As delightful as these women sometimes appear, the script is quick to cancel out any charms, and this play never gets tiresome. Brooke is a great over-sharer and the embodiment of cognitive dissonance. She pauses in the street to write a Tweet about some inanity but gripes when someone snaps a picture of her being kissed by a friend. “Must we document ourselves all the time? Must WE?” she says in a declaration to the universe but to no one really.

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The dynamic between these two would-be sisters starts to knot when Brooke shares with Tracy her idea to start a restaurant in New York City called “Mom’s.” Brooke doesn’t know anything about cooking, but she has an array of mismatched plates in boxes at her studio apartment that exude the sort of ambiance she dreams of creating. It’s this sense of superficiality that fuels an insubstantial drive that begins to intrigue and delight Tracy. Tracy, meanwhile, is chasing her own dream, hoping to be accepted by a supercilious writer’s club at college who flaunt leather satchels and sit in a room discussing big ideas while sipping wine. It turns out Brooke, who refers to herself as “Mistress America,” could prove to be the real-life inspiration she needs for a short story that would impress the snobs.

“I think you can do anything” Tracy says, enabling Brooke’s ego as she meets with potential investors. There’s a sinister sincerity to the statement. However, the film only ever presents these characters as endearing. Tracy never appears ironically shifty. You have a sense she knows not what she is doing, as she co-opts her new-found friendship with little regard for Brooke’s feelings. Whether she can learn from this is not spelled out, but the bond between these two depends on something much more profound.

Hans Morgenstern

Mistress America runs 84 minutes and is rated R (adult talk and humor). It opens in our South Florida area Sept. 4 at the following indie theaters: O Cinema  Wynwood and Cinema Paradiso Hollywood. For screening dates hear you, check out a list of theaters hosting the film across the U.S. by clicking this link. O Cinema invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. All images are courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

while-were-young-poster-700x1093“The younger generation — it means retribution, you see. It comes, as if under a new banner, heralding the turn of fortune.”
—Henrik Ibsen, The Master Builder

I don’t believe that was one of a series of too many quotes that popped up on a black background in silence at the start of While We’re Young, but it probably best represents the sense of dread the film was trying to capitalize on. In a society that has become so post-cultural and progressive, it gets a little hard to get old, and no one seems more obsessed with transmitting that than writer/director Noah Baumbach (follow my tag for the director on this blog to read reviews for Greenberg and Frances Ha).

For those getting a little tired of Baumbach’s recurring theme of the challenges of growing old and letting go of youth, While We’re Young may disappoint, but it is worth sticking through for a confrontation with reality that is powerful as Greenberg fishing out the unrecognizable dead animal out of a house pool as younger people reveled around him. In While We’re Young, however, the moment feels more grounded, less metaphorical and ultimately, more disturbingly real. Baumbach still has that special touch for capturing moments resonant with revelation without coming across as heavy-handed. It’s a special kind of moment in cinema that few writer/directors can pull off (his hero Eric Rohmer comes to mind).

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After the lengthy Ibsen passage, we meet middle age Gen Xers Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), as they struggle to tell an infant the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” When both forget how the story goes, they begin to argue about their memory of it. Meanwhile, the baby bursts into tears. The implication is that these two are parents, but the child’s cries rattle them. Soon, their friends, the babe’s actual mother (Maria Dizzia) and father (Adam Horovitz — Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys!), arrive to scoop their child up. It’s a cute play on perception and a quick, efficient device to establish these characters, who still haven’t found a way to come to terms with adulthood.

Though all their friends seem to be having children, it soon becomes apparent that Josh and Cornelia are in a mid-life crisis of arrested development. Josh is a documentary filmmaker with one well-received movie under his belt that’s out of print and so old that you can only find it on the secondhand market on VHS. He’s stuck in a rut with his follow-up, now about 10 years in the making and clocking in with a run-time of 10 hours that he cannot seem to pare down. Then he meets a 20-something fan, Jamie (Adam Driver), who melts Josh’s heart by admitting his fandom and saying he spent some stupid price on eBay to obtain an original VHS copy of the movie. They become fast friends.

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Josh finds new vicarious youth in Jamie and his girlfriend Darby (Amanda Seyfried), and easily pulls Cornelia into hanging out with them. After all, Cornelia is stuck in her own rut. She still works for her father Leslie (Charles Grodin, in remarkable deadpan mode), a legend in documentary cinema who is more active than Josh. While Leslie accumulates awards, Josh struggles to find grant money to continue his work.

Stagnation is a big thing for the middle-aged couple, as Watts — stellar at balancing pathos and humor — reveals her character’s embarrassment about being in her 40s and working for her dad with leaden reserve. It’s a heavy regret, but she has found a way to live with it, yet you can sense her feeling that life has passed her by. At another point in the film she says about having a child, “We missed our chance … I’m fine with that.” There’s a sad acceptance to the statement. Thus, Josh and Cornelia embrace the vicarious opportunity that the millennial couple offers them as if they were salvation incarnate. Darby is an entrepreneur, marketing homemade ice cream featuring incongruous Ben & Jerry’s flavors of her own design. Meanwhile, Jamie aspires to make his own documentary films. The 20-somethings offer a new life. Who needs a baby when you have fully grown children to hang out with?

At first, Josh and Cornelia are delighted by this new breed of human they have discovered: young, prototypical Brooklyn hipsters who have re-purposed the detritus of Gen X and curated it in interesting ways. When Josh and Cornelia, stop into the earthy studio apartment of Jamie and Darby, they are confronted with racks of vinyl records, albeit mostly thrift store throw aways from the likes of Phil Collins and Lionel Richie. Cornelia observes, “It’s like their apartment is filled with stuff we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” It’s as though the new generation has co-opted their generation’s popular trash whose only merit is that it is “vintage.” Look, there’s a cassette of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell on the dashboard of Jamie’s old sedan. As any grounded member of Gen X should know, that album was never cool. However, Josh is too smitten to notice these clues of phoniness. When Jamie plays “Eye of the Tiger” to get Josh pumped for a meeting with a possible investor in his film, Josh tells Jamie, “I remember when this song was just considered bad.” But he starts bobbing to it, and adds, “but it’s working.”

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There’s a witty sort of dramatic irony going on here. The idea of sincerity is different for these two. While Josh says he is struggling to make “a film that’s both materialist and intellectual at the same time,” Jamie says he is looking to present “the truth” with his movie, which, as Josh will come to learn, does not necessarily mean being strictly honest in the literal sense. When Jamie volunteers to help Josh with his documentary, Josh will finally come to understand the gulf between them. Finally, he tells Cornelia about Jamie, “It’s all a pose. It’s like he once saw a sincere person, and he’s imitating him all the time!”

Josh is such a dynamically drawn character and Stiller brings an empathetic sincerity to his struggle via yet another richly written part by Baumbach. It’s a shame you cannot say the same about the women, who have issues and complexities of their own. Watts raises many small moments with Cornelia to impressive height, but the character’s standout moment with her friend/nemesis, Darby, happens during a hip-hop dance class, where she gradually finds her groove to awkward effect, played for cheap laughs. Even less fulfilling of a character is Darby whose character is hardly given a chance to transcend her artisanal ice cream flavors. Like Cornelia, it feels as though she is only along for the ride. That these women feel like supporting players in what should be an ensemble film is such a shame, especially considering how terrific the women characters were drawn in Baumbach’s previous movie, Frances Ha, featuring a screenplay he co-wrote with the film’s star, Greta Gerwig.

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But maybe this is Josh’s movie for a reason. The fact that our hero is a filmmaker and male and is even more sympathetic than Stiller’s last role in a Baumbach movie (Greenberg), will make some wonder if Josh is a surrogate for Baumbach (the Internet has theorized might Jamie be a stand-in for director Joe Swanberg? In this radio interview, Baumbach denied this). It also takes a certain sense of self-awareness to pull this kind of movie off. One has to be ready to laugh about oneself, and Baumbach has always been fearless about that. That’s why, when the end finally arrives and Josh finally confronts Jamie, the film offers a brilliant play on perspective. As Josh’s father-in-law becomes accepting of Jamie and his vision of “truth,” Jamie warps into a stranger to Josh. In this resonant penultimate scene, Baumbach reveals how both base slapstick and intellectual wit can work together so brilliantly by playing with audience anticipation and textured characters.

Despite a final scene that feels a bit too tidy, While We’re Young examines the complexity of change from one generation to the next as a vicious cycle that never releases its grip unless you learn to make yourself comfortable in it. After all, the next generation is pursing all of us … “under a new banner, heralding the turn of fortune.”

Hans Morgenstern

While We’re Young runs 97 minutes and is Rated R (there’s cussing. Otherwise, teens can go and see what they have to look forward to at 40). It opened in the South Florida area on April 10 in many theaters. The indie cinema to support is O Cinema Miami Beach, which hosts the film until the end of this week. A24 Films hosted a press screening in Miami back in March for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

IOFCP Logo

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll has announced its nominations for its 2013/14 survey. I was honored to have been asked to participate for this fourth edition of this poll (see previous surveys here). I know at least one other local film critic asked to participate (Reuben Peira at Film Frontier). We were asked to provide five nominees for each category below. The organizer, George McCoy, informed me there are well over a hundred critics who participated. Eligible films had to be released in the U.S. in the years 2013 and 2014. I went out on many a limb with personal favorites (see my nomination ballot below the press release below). But hardly any of those long shots made it to the final ballot.

What I see in the list below is a lot of preciousness for the auteur. That terrible film by Martin Scorsese (‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!) has several nominations. Even Polanski makes an appearance for a film that really did not make as much as an impact as The Ghost Writer (2010). On the other hand, there’s Wes Anderson who did not disappoint last year (‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ may be cartoonish, but it’s also one of Wes Anderson’s most human films), and Alejandro González Iñárritu made a strong return with Birdman (‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire). But beyond those were clear Oscar winners or contenders like Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave and Patricia Arquette for Boyhood (‘Boyhood’ is Linklater’s masterpiece on youth, existence and humanity).

There are some surprises like Mads Mikkelsen for The Hunt (The Hunt’ examines influence of the crime on judgement) and The Great Beauty, which was one of he great surprises (‘The Great Beauty’ earns it’s title by looking beyond the superficial). There are some films I need to catch up on. Cavalry is up for screenplay, and Julianne Moore is the running for best actress in Still Alice. I may give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Venus In Furs a chance, too.

The winners are scheduled to be announced January 25. Here are all the nominees:

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PRESS RELEASE – IOFCP NOMINATIONS

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll is proud to announce its nominations for the 4th biannual awards for excellence in film.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman leads with nine nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Then, with eight nominations, Wes Anderson’s comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, and with seven nominations, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Among the films of 2013 with most nominations there are Gravity (five), 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street (both four, including Best Picture).

Founded in 2007, the IOFCP is the only biannual poll of film critics from all around the world. The awards are biannual to allow the comparison of different film seasons.

Past IOFCP Awards winners include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Inglourious Basterds and Slumdog Millionaire.

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paolo Sorrentino – The Great Beauty
Roman Polanski – Venus in Fur

BEST ACTOR
Michael Keaton – Birdman
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Colour
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Edward Norton – Birdman
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Emma Stone – Birdman
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
June Squibb – Nebraska

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST ORIGINAL SCEENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
Calvary
Her
The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ADAPTED SCEENPLAY
12 Years a Slave
Gone Girl
Snowpiercer
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
Gravity
Ida
Nebraska
The Great Beauty

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Gravity
Her
Mr. Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST EDITING
Birdman
Boyhood
Gravity
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Gravity
Her
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Interstellar
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

* * *

Now, below you will find my nominations. Again, many long shots, but it’s more fun that way, and I do not feel as though I have sold out some genuine favorites that I might have naively believed had a chance of appearing on the list. After all, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did win the last edition.

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Best Picture
Something in the Air (Après mai)
Blue is the Warmest Color
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Inherent Vice
Best Director
Olivier Assayas – Something in the Air (Après mai)
Noah Baumbach – Frances Ha
Abdellatif Kechiche – Blue Is the Warmest Color 
Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – Two Days, One Night  (Deux jours, une nuit)
Best Actor
Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Ralph Fiennes – Grand Budapest Hotel
Jason Schwartzman – Listen Up Philip
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Best Actress
Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest Color 
Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night  (Deux jours, une nuit)
Felicity Jones – Theory of Everything
Scarlett Joahansen – Under the Skin
Best Supporting Actor
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave
Benedict Cumberbatch – Star Trek Into Darkness
Edward Norton – Birdman
Jonathan Pryce – Listen Up Philip
Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
June Squibb – Nebraska
Mia Wasikowska – Only Lovers Left Alive
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Emma Stone – Birdman
Best Ensemble Cast
Inside Llewyn Davis
Something in the Air (Après mai)
Inherent Vice
Birdman
Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Original Screenplay
Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Spike Jonez – Her
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
Alex Ross Perry – Listen Up Philip
Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years A Slave – John Ridley
The Butler – Danny Strong
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Best Cinematography
Inside Llewyn Davis
Blue is the Warmest Color
Under the Skin
Goodbye To Language 3D
Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Production Design
Her
Something in the Air (Après mai)
Under the Skin
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Editing
Gravity
Birdman
Under the Skin
Grand Budapest Hotel
Blue is the Warmest Color
Best Original Score
Something in the Air (Après mai) – various
Only Lovers Left Alive – Jim Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem
Under the Skin – Mica Levi
Inherent Vice – Jonny Greenwood
Birdman – Antonio Sanchez
Best Visual Effects
Fury
Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Under the Skin
Goodbye To Language 3D

Click though the link before after January 25 to find who won this biennial poll :

Internationalonlinefilmcritics/home

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)