Tag Archives: Naomi Watts

Young at Heart

Bittersweet Ben Stiller comedy explores growing up, growing older

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While We’re Young

Starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried

Directed by Noah Baumbach

R

The search for the fountain of youth, both literally and figuratively, has captivated imaginations for centuries. Who hasn’t dreamed of turning back the hands of time?

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Naomi Watts & Ben Stiller

In the latest movie comedy from indie-favorite writer-director Noah Baumbach, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a childless New York husband and wife in their forties who find themselves out of the loop with their friends, whose lives now revolve around new babies and toddlers. But they’re suddenly rejuvenated—as if spritzed by the mythical fountain—when they intersect with a couple of twenty-something hipsters, Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver (from the HBO series Girls) and Amanda Seyfried, who remind them of all the things they used to be.

At Jamie and Darby’s intoxicatingly funky digs, Josh and Cornelia swoon over their new friends’ retro-iffic love of old vinyl records, classic board games, VHS tapes, vintage fashion and manual typewriters. “It’s like…everything we once threw out,” Cornelia gushes. “But it looks so good they way they have it!”

Jamie, it turns out, is also a documentary filmmaker, like Josh—although Josh has been struggling with one movie for the past seven years, unable to complete it. Jamie strokes Josh’s frail, needy ego; Josh falls under the spell of Jamie’s freewheeling, youthful energy—and, at least for a while, how everything seems to work out so easily for him.

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Amanda Seyfried

When Josh and Jamie collaborate on a new project, and Cornelia’s father (Charles Grodin)—an esteemed documentary filmmaker himself—gets involved, things get complicated. The couples’ relationships begin to unravel; jealousies and suspicions arise. Is Jamie using Josh for his connection to his famous father-in-law? Is Josh just being neurotic and resentful? When is a kiss more a kiss, a “meeting” more than a meeting? What do Jamie and Cornelia see in Josh and Darby that they can’t find in themselves?

Director Baumbach, whose critically acclaimed films include Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale, has a very Woody Allen-ish way with his New York settings, characters and situations, coaxing out humor in the way Jamie and Cornelia are attracted to the lifestyles of their new friends—and the way their “old” friends react to them. Josh begins sporting a fedora and sockless dress shoes, like Jamie; Cornelia takes up hip-hop dance classes with Darby.

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Josh (Ben Stiller) begins dressing like his new friend Jamie (Adam Driver).

“We’re worried about you,” their friend Fletcher (Adam Horovitz, of the ’80s rap trio the Beastie Boys) tells them. “You’re an old man in a hat.”

The soundtrack’s mix of tunes from David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Wings, Vivaldi, Danny Kaye, the Psychedelic Furs and A Tribe Called Quest adds to the movie’s feel of a crisscrossing mash-up of generations.

In the second half, the plot strains to connect Josh’s principles about “truth” in documentary films to a major point about Jamie’s approach to moviemaking that doesn’t seem to be a such a big deal to anyone else, even in the big climatic showdown to which everything builds. The movie’s much better when it sticks to the “smaller” human comedy of people dealing with the foibles of growing up and growing older, finding out who they are and what they want out of life, and learning that every age—and every stage—has its joys as well as its jolts.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Saints Alive

Bill Murray shines as a grumpy-golden coot-next-door

ST. VINCENT

St. Vincent

Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Jaeden Lieberher

Directed by Theodore Melfi

PG-13

Bill Murray has carved out a comfortable three-decade movie niche playing sweet-natured troublemakers, loveable oafs and world-weary wiseasses. So the grumpy old coot-next-door he now portrays, at age 64, in St. Vincent seems like a perfect fit, a natural progression.

Murray’s character, Vincent, becomes the caretaker of a 10-year-old boy, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), after Oliver and his stressed-out single mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) become his new neighbors—Vincent is strapped for cash and Maggie’s in a bind. Not knowing anyone else, she enlists Vincent to watch Oliver after school and evenings while she works.

“He’s sort of cool, in a grouchy sort of way,” Oliver tells his mother after a few afternoons in Vincent’s care. “Too old to be dangerous, but not too old to be too dangerous.”

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Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher & Naomi Watts

Vincent is hardly any mom’s dream babysitter; he drinks, he smokes, he gambles, and he takes Oliver along to the bar and the racetrack. He teaches Oliver to fight and to stand up to the bully at school. It’s no real surprise when Vincent becomes a surrogate father figure to the scrawny, sensitive lad, whose own dad, we learn, is contesting his mother for Oliver’s custody.

It’s a familiar, often sitcom-ish setup, one that most viewers will recognize from a long parade of TV and movie characters who’ve marched before, from W.C. Fields to Uncle Buck. But Murray and his fellow cast members elevate the material far above the basics, giving the story a rich, lived-in texture with grit, laughter, warmth and an easygoing dramatic groove that cuts through the script’s clichés.

We learn why Vincent seems to have given up on almost everything, why he’s out of money, and why he’s willing to gamble away what little he has left. We watch Oliver emerge from his shell, moreST. VINCENT enabled and emboldened to take on the world. And we understand the connection between Oliver’s school assignment about saints, the title of the movie, and a school assembly where everything comes together.

Murray is a gem, the scruffy, gruff-y glue that holds it all together and keeps it from flecking off into granules of sugary-sweet cuteness. It’s a treat to see McCarthy in a role where she gets to play it straight, freed from comedic slapstick and shenanigans. Watts is a hoot—and seems to be having one, too—as Vincent’s pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend. And Lieberher, as Oliver, is a natural in front of the camera who can hold his own, even when sharing the frame with the formidable funnyman.

St. Vincent, in limited release but gaining in popularity, may not be playing “in a theater near you.” But it’s well worth going the extra mile if you have to seek it out; you’ve probably heard Bill Murray’s name cropping up for some awards at the end of this movie year. And by all means, stay until the end—the very end. The extended sequence that plays under the credits, with Murray (as Vincent) singing along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm”—the whole song—as he blithely waters a forlorn-looking potted plant with an uncooperative garden hose, is a sublime bit of blissed-out backyard karaoke that is itself almost worth the price of your ticket.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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