At the very top of this film, writer/director Baumbach (Frances Ha) sets the mood with a ridiculous, absurd, utterly self-conscious pretentious string of dialogue from A Master Builder. As it turns out, there is a point to it all, despite how meta it makes the movie.
Stiller (Night at the Museum) and Watts (Dangerous Beauty) play an older (and that hurts to write) couple who meet a younger couple played by Driver (This is Where I Leave You) and Seyfried (A Million Ways to Die in the West). The relationship becomes a catalyst, of sorts, for both a reawakening and discovery, ultimately leading to acceptance and reality. The foursome play well together, and the ebb and flow of the relationship is intricate and well cosntructed.
But, honestly, it is Grodin’s performance and character that is the most enjoyable. As a brilliant curmudgeon with a real desire to help his son-in-law, Grodin manages to show a wide range in just a few scenes and little dialogue.
I have to say I preferred Baumbach’s much better and more successful Frances Ha over this exploration of social change. While it shares the same quiet intensity of adults lost in the modern world, it doesn’t quite allow us to care as much about those involved. They’re all just a bit too pathetic or just too distant for us to view it more than intellectually. On that last aspect, it is a great essay on societal evolution and technology, thus the Master Builder quote that is actively pretentious, but dead on point. It portrays the intersection of Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials (and whatever follows them). If you’re a Boomer or older, well, you’re just backdrop fodder for this piece. How much you can relate to it will be dependent on how you live your life.
There are just enough laughs to keep this going, but it isn’t truly enjoyable, though it is, on occasion, surprising with some nice, contained performances. It is mostly like listening to an entertaining lecture by a favored prof who can land a one-liner. You’ll laugh, you’ll think, you’ll probably forget most of it within a half-hour of seeing it.