Mistress America

August 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Seth Barrish
Directed by: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) and Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”)

Like a lot of dialogue-driven, indie hipster comedies these days, there isn’t much that separates a screenplay from being extremely witty and extremely annoying. Where the line is draw for most people, however, depends on how much of that clever banter one can handle before the script starts feeling like a choreographed conversation that is way too smart for its own good. No one works as hard to play both ends of the spectrum as Oscar-nominated filmmaker Noah Baumbach. While films like “The Squid and the Whale” and “Frances Ha” have been funny, dark, charming, and sharply written, others like last year’s “While We’re Young” and his most recent “Mistress America” are a few notches too exaggerated. While we’re sure there are plenty of people out there as self-absorbed as actress Greta Gerwig’s Brooke, Baumbach doesn’t give audience reason to want to hang around with her for more than necessary. Baumach is better at writing profound characters than he at writing the peculiar ones. In the case of Brooke, she is the type of friend that is more manageable in small doses. Maybe that was the point, but Baumbach has written unlikeable characters before that go down a whole lot smoother.

While We’re Young

April 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver
Directed by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”)

In American culture, there is perhaps no easier target than the modern day hipster. With their bowler hats, neatly groomed mustaches and vintage bikes, it’s easy to poke fun at their transparent sense of irony and mock them in pop culture. Apparently, writer and director Noah Baumbach figured this was enough to base an entire film off of. Unfortunately for him, every single bit of attempted comedy and satire feels way too obvious in “While We’re Young.”

As Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) meander through their dull, but satisfactory lives, they have a chance meeting with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young hipster couple. Josh and Cornelia become fascinated with their easy-going lifestyle and rejuvenated when they are able to spend time with them. But eventually, when Josh and Jamie team up for a mutual work project, things begin to appear different than they initially seemed.

Baumbach is no stranger to caustic, unlikeable characters. With all that kept in mind, nearly every single person in “While We’re Young” is completely annoying. Whether it’s in their complaints about their lives or the behavior they exhibit, there’s a level of obnoxiousness that courses through the veins of every element of “While We’re Young.” From the characterization, to the performances, to the script and beyond, there’s something about the film and the way it runs things into the ground that makes you want to say “We get it. You’re eccentric.”

As previously alluded to, hipster jokes are among the most simple to tell. The screenplay puts a reliance on mining the ironic and inherent weirdness of the culture, juxtaposing it with a generation that need their phones for information or communication every second. It’s a message that lacks any sort of nuance and most importantly, humor, as every joke falls staggeringly flat. Are we supposed to laugh simply because Stiller, a nearly 50-year-old man, has decided to copy his decades younger friend and wear a hat everywhere?

Beyond dialogue issues, there is also a problem with the narrative elements of the script. The turn here is unbelievably obvious, and one that any audience member who has been paying attention will be able to figure out in a heartbeat. There are also scenes that feel completely superfluous, such as a scene where the couples head to a weird ritual where they drink some sort of concoction that makes them vomit and hallucinate. It’s funny cause it’s “weird,” right?

It’s clear that Baumbach was trying to say something about the mid-life crisis. The problem is, there is absolutely no subtlety to anything seen in “While We’re Young.” From laughing at the expense of hipsters, to flipping the roles of the technology-reliant and the old fashioned, nearly every second, plotline or joke is way too on the nose to register as funny, biting, or profound.

Frances Ha

May 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper
Directed by: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) and Greta Gerwig (“Hannah Takes the Stairs”)

It might be your natural intuition to laugh a little at Frances (Greta Gerwig), the cute-as-a-button and generally goofy title character of filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s (“The Squid and the Whale”) black and white independent comedy “Frances Ha,” but you really should be laughing with her. At 27, she doesn’t have life figure out just yet, but she’s having fun fumbling it up.

And so goes Baumbach’s carefree character piece, which was co-written by his star and real-life significant other Gerwig. Without Gerwig, a bona fide indie darling who started her career with mumblecore films like “LOL” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” a character like Frances might be able to exist, but it definitely wouldn’t glisten as much as the naturalistic Gerwig does in the role. It would be like Natalie Portman trying too hard to be hip in “Garden State” – awkward enough but lacking any realism.

Instead, Gerwig drives “Frances Ha” into a place where very clever and high-spirited dialogue prevails. Say what you will about Baumbach (some detractors would call him a bit of a misanthrope in the way he writes characters), but Frances is a lot different than a neurotic Nicole Kidman in 2007’s “Margot at the Wedding” or an apathetic Ben Stiller in 2010’s “Greenberg.” Frances loves life. She just can’t get her footing. She’s miserable, but watching each misstep only makes you want to hug her and make everything better.

Some viewers will still mistake Baumbach and Gerwig’s well-written wit as pretentious prose, but there are a lot worse quirky indie wannabe attempts that have recently tried to do the same (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “Restless,” “The Art of Getting By”). Directors/writers like Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, and Jay and Mark Duplass do it well, and Baumbach should easily fit into that group of unique storytellers that usually get it right.

In “Frances,” you can see the affection Baumbach and Gerwig have for the character. She is a New York City dance apprentice who is thrown for a loop when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) decides to move out of their apartment with little notice. To top it off, Frances’s career as a modern dancer isn’t working out as well as she would like.

Unlike many of those films where annoying hipsters are trying to find themselves through their art, Frances doesn’t need your pity. Actually, she is going to be just fine, which is why she’s so likeable. She doesn’t brood or feel sorry for herself much. She’s silly. Her friends say she’s “undateable,” which only makes her even more dateable. She’s a diamond in the rough. Well, maybe not a diamond, but a really shiny rock that stands out. In an industry that has forgotten how to write full-fledged female characters, that’s saying a lot.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”)

If it wasn’t for Spike Jonze and his beautifully somber retelling of “Where the Wild Things Are,” Wes Anderson would be the leading vote-getter this year as the director with the most imagination for his whimsical and detail-oriented animation “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Look behind you Pixar; this is a sly one.

Based on the classic Roald Dahl children’s book of the same name, which was published in 1970, Oscar-winner George Clooney (“Syriana”) lends his voice to Mr. Fox, a risk-taking carnivorous and clever newspaper columnist who promises his wife Mrs. Fox (two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep) that he will find another line of work after they are both caught stealing chickens.

Twelve years later, Fox is a family man with a son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), who he really can’t bond with, and a craving to return to his animalistic nature and go on another heist after a long hiatus. Call it a mid-life crisis, but Fox needs an adrenaline rush again. “I’m a wild animal,” is the reason he gives his better half when she finds out he and his loyal friend Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), an easily- influenced opossum, are scheming to steal from Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, three of the meanest farmers this side of the woods.

But while Fox is off jumping fences and getting ready for their “triple-header master plan,” Ash is left to fend with his own insecure teenage problems. His lack of self-confidence is magnified when his much more talented cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes for a visit and is immediately accepted by Fox as a member of his chicken- thieving crew.

Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, however, aren’t going to let one sly little fox outsmart them. Armed with dynamite, bulldozers, and rabid beagles, they go on a full assault against Fox and his family, who inhabit a tree across the field from where the farms sit. The farmers push them farther and farther into the terrain and force them to make an intricate series of paths to stay alive.

Masterfully crafted in a screenplay penned by Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), much of the writing duo’s snarky and sardonic dialogue works charmingly well coming from the mouths of fuzzy creatures who wear corduroy jackets and bandit hats and dance as silly as the Peanuts gang. There’s even a witty ongoing gag throughout the film where Anderson and Baumbach replace any expletives they would have used in one of their grown-up films with the word “cuss.”

Driven by old-fashioned stop motion animation, the style of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” looks like nothing you’ve seen in the past few years. It’s a handmade work-of-art with a wonderfully eccentric and heartfelt message about fathers and sons and what it really means to be “fantastic” when you’re just so different from everyone else. If Anderson has proven anything in his 15-year career, that would be the perfect sentiment.