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'While We're Young' Tackles Age-Old Rivalries

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts get hooked by the lure of youth

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Stars: Adam Driver, Charles Grodin, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts

Director: Noah Baumbach

A splendid cautionary comedy, While We're Young — the story of a middle-aged married pair hopelessly in the thrall of a much-younger couple — hums along with a dash of intrigue and betrayal on its way to a thoughtfully happy ending.

While We're Young, Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts

Jon Pack/Courtesy A24

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts in “While We’re Young” fall under the spell of a much-younger couple, who may have ulterior motives.

Ben Stiller is Josh, a New York documentary filmmaker whose last film was completed so long ago it's available only on VHS. His current project, meanwhile, has been incubating for the better part of a decade. He also teaches a class in documentary filmmaking, into which drops a 20-something student named Jamie (Adam Driver).

Against all odds, the lad appears to be a genuine fan of Josh's work. On his arm is his equally gushing girlfriend, Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Josh, his damaged ego inflated to the point where he ignores even flashing-red warning signs, welcomes this pair into his life — and into the apartment he shares with his wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts). She, too, falls under the spell of this fancy-free pair, who remind her and Josh of their long-ago Golden Age, which now seems as elusive as a parking space in Manhattan.

Enraptured by the kids' youthful and somewhat eclectic exuberance (while Josh and Cornelia struggle to master Netflix, the youngsters play board games and listen to vinyl records), Josh and Cornelia shuck their old friends. Throwing caution (and the aches of arthritis) to the wind, they accompany Jamie and Darby to hip-hop dance classes, harrowing bike rides through New York City traffic and a weekend at a shaman's house replete with hallucinogens.

But might the youngsters have ulterior motives? Why does Jamie, a fledgling documentary maker himself, seem so keen on meeting Cornelia's father, who happens to be a legendary documentarian? Here While We're Young starts to take a darker turn, but writer-director Noah Baumbach (whose Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale both won Movies for Grownups awards) never lets things spiral entirely out of control. Stiller brings his trademark exasperation to the table, playing nicely against Driver's too-cool-for-the-room hipster. They could not appear more different, but in time we begin to suspect that were the two men to switch places (and respective life stages), they would be very much the same.

It all comes to a head at a lifetime-achievement ceremony for Cornelia's father (wonderfully played by Charles Grodin, who looks smashing in a tuxedo).

To its final frames, When We're Young bristles with plot surprises and delightfully dark insights into that delicate tipping point at which generations can either nurture each other or fall into a bloody feeding frenzy.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.