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While We’re Young

Unfriended

April 23, 2015

While We’re Young (***) R

Director Noah Baumbach engendered a lot of good will among critics with his last film Frances Ha, but, alas, I wasn’t among them. I found that film’s title character to be an annoying and entitled, spoiled brat who grated on my nerves to no end. Baumbach’s latest film, While We’re Young, also contains more than one character sharing the sensibilities with the central character of Baumbach’s last film but I didn’t mind it so much here. Though the veteran filmmaker seems to be a tad overly obsessed with the up and coming generation who grew up in the clutches of modern technology, his latest film works due to the fact that he offers a middle aged couple in their forties as a counterpoint to the youngsters represented in this film. As a result While We’re Young gives the viewer some really good stuff to chew on even if it does become a bit too plot driven during its third and final act.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as Josh and Cornelia. They are a childless NYC couple attempting to stay afloat but not particularly happy and, more or less, just going through the motions and apparently in the throes of a midlife crisis.

Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts in While We’re Young

Josh, in particular, seems to be having a reevaluation of some sort as the film opens. He’s a documentary filmmaker attempting to put the finishing touches on his last project. Cornelia has her regrets as well as she seems to be saddened with her inability to bear children after two miscarriages. Josh and Cornelia are one those couples that seem to never go on a vacation, ensconced in career endeavors and keep plugging along in the hope that they will find the answers that have eluded them in life thus far, though none seem to be forthcoming.

Enter into the picture Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a married couple in their mid twenties. Josh meets them while teaching a continuing education class and immediately feels invigorated while in the presence of the two. Josh suggests to Cornelia that the two should get together and, as with a lot of new relationships, it proves to be a good thing—for awhile. Eventually the seams begin to show when Jamie enlists Josh to co-direct a documentary film project with him and reaches out to Josh’s father in law (Charles Grodin, wonderful as always) as a potential investor. It isn’t long before the two reveal themselves to be self-centered opportunists, leaving Cornelia and Josh to question their newfound friendship and initial judgement.

While We’re Young does become a bit plot heavy in its final section but that’s okay. Baumbach redeems himself with the film’s illuminating first act to the point that I was willing to forgive him for the latter cinematic transgressions. While We’re Young may not have all the answers but it does raise enough interesting questions and that’s good enough for me.

Unfriended (** ½) R

One could say that the gimmick is the thing when referring to director Levan Gabriadze’s horror opus Unfriended. The said gimmick here is that the entire film unfolds over a computer screen. It may not be the first movie to transpire this way but it‘s for this reason, and not the actual content of the film, that viewers are likely to remember the film. That is, if they remember it at all.

Unfortunately, once you get past the gimmick of the film transpiring on a multitude of open computer windows, there’s not a lot that’s going to stick with the viewer in terms of genuine scares. The characters are all of the cardboard variety and the plot developments will be easily telegraphed way in advance to anyone who is familiar with the horror genre. And who isn’t these days?

The film is set on the one year anniversary of the suicide of high school student Laura Barnes (Heather Sossamon).

Scene from Unfriended

The film opens with Laura’s BFF, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) browsing the prank YouTube video that lead Laura to take her own life. Simultaneously, while videochatting in a marathon session on Skype with her peeps, Val, Jess, Adam and Mitch, Blaire begins receiving messages from Laura. If Blaire believes what her instincts tell her then the texts are seemingly emanating from beyond the grave. Or are they? If you’re reading this, you probably already know the answer to that question without actually having paid for a movie ticket to see the film.

The film looks as if it were filmed on a budget of roughly $37.50 and that’s including what it must have cost to pay the cast of unknowns that populate the film. They are competent enough but it’s obvious they are all novices and who could blame them for trying to hitch their wagon to this horror movie star? Heck, the soundtrack is even composed of songs you’ve never heard that are found on Blaire’s online music playlist. The artists who composed these songs must have cleaned up by having their songs included here.

As I said there are few genuine scares in the film and the few that do turn up are jarring at times, elevating the film just at the right moments. Especially the pic’s final image, which might have lifted Unfriended from just the level of a generic horror film had the film contained more shocks along those lines. As it stands, Unfriended turns out to be one of those horror outings that’s extremely difficult to review—it isn’t really good enough to recommend but also isn’t bad enough to warn viewers to stay away. My advice would be to use your own judgment. Perhaps your dollars will be better spent when the remake of Poltergeist hits theaters next month.

While We’re Young is playing in Charlotte. Unfriended is playing locally at various theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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