I missed this one when it was in theaters despite really digging the teaser (linked below). I love coming of age stories, and a coming of age flick for 30-something’s sounded fresh and inventive – even if you didn’t find Naomi Watts awkwardly dancing to hip-hop funny.
The film stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a Josh and Cornelia, a married couple who have decided not to have children and are struggling with their exclusion from the cult of parenthood. If your friends have started to breed, this is a very real, almost cliche, sea change that you’ll inevitably be forced to confront. Instead of children, Josh has decided to put ten years of his life into his unfinished sophomore documentary and Cornelia has decided to support him. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure we’re ever told what she does for a living. It’s possible that she’s a producer.
The couple, still reeling from the loss of their social structure, find an unexpected friendship in a young hipster couple they meet in Brooklyn. Josh is showered with validation and the stigma of not having children falls by the wayside. I would have loved it if the movie had simply decided to explore the muddled waters of a generational divide that you might cross if you’ve been separated from your peers in the middle of your life. The characters were all compelling and the premise is one that plenty of us can relate to.
Sadly, the movie takes this charming conceit and uses it to launch a pretty substantial subplot that takes up most of the third act. I never saw it coming. Maybe because it’s not hinted at in the trailer. At all.
As much as the teaser wants you to believe that this is a movie about a married couple and their midlife tribulations, it’s really a movie about the Josh character. Everything Cornelia does is in service of Josh’s goals. She doesn’t have her own arc and spends most of the movie being quietly frustrated with almost everything Josh is doing. Other than the fact that the movie tells you they’re in love, I began to wonder why someone like her would stay with him through everything. He’s self obsessed, incredibly mean to her father, and seemingly unsympathetic to the emotional turmoil she’s going through.
Even when the movie touches on the subject of motherhood and the challenges faced by women wanting a pregnancy later in life, it’s presented in a way that’s frustrating for Josh, not Cornelia. It’s obvious that she’s going through immense emotional turmoil, but it’s almost as if this pain is caused by knowing that she can’t give him what he wants. This is bugging me the more and more I think about it.
END OF SPOILERS
I really enjoyed this movie for the first 20 minutes and the last five. Everything in between felt like writer, Noah Baumbach, was afraid that the basic premise wasn’t substantial enough to carry the film – and that’s a shame. He’s an incredible writer, but in this situation, I think half of this movie is a colossal misstep.
I would have preferred if the film followed our main characters and explored their neurosis. Punctuate it with laughter all you want, but make it a story about them, not him. I think Watts and Stiller’s on-screen chemistry is fantastic and their scenes of dialogue really worked for me. However, in the end, I’ll remember this as a story about an awkward man who felt like he had to protect his ego his entire life – all at the detriment of his wife’s happiness. And frankly, that’s not a movie I was really interested in watching.