Even 40-somethings have identity crises

‘While We’re Young’ comes to Island cinemas this weekend.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star in "While We're Young."

Filmmaker Noah Baumbach takes over Woody Allen’s mantle as the explorer of artsy middle-class neurotics in his new film, While We’re Young, opening this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center and Entertainment Cinemas. Too bad about the boringly flat title and the heavy-handed opening quote from Henrik Ibsen, because this is a romantic comedy that charms and amuses.

Central characters Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a 40-something couple experiencing an identity crisis. Childless after multiple miscarriages, they find themselves out of sync with longtime friends like Fletcher (Adam Horovitz) and Marina (Maria Dizzia), who have moved on to doting parenthood. In While We’re Young, 40-something becomes the new 20-something for Josh and Cornelia, when the millennial couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) happen into their lives. It seems like a perfect fit.

Like Josh, Adam is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and he looks up to Josh as the older, more accomplished artist who produced a successful film 10 years ago. The catch is that Josh has been floundering ever since, procrastinating on his second cinematic effort, a political/philosophical morass. He’s suffering from a Gen-X midlife crisis. So is Cornelia, who works on production for her celebrated documentarist father Leslie (Charles Grodin), who hasn’t made a film in years. The green-eyed monster rules Josh, who resents his father-in-law’s success in the face of his own lack of follow through.

Hooking up with Jamie and Darby seems like the perfect solution to Josh and Cornelia’s angst. After all, Jamie seems to hero-worship Josh, and the 20-something couple enjoys youthful millennial pastimes. Josh builds his own furniture, collects vinyl records and “pukes up his demons” under the influence of a New Age guru. Darby makes boutique ice creams and attends hip-hop exercise classes, but like Cornelia, stays on the sidelines in this male-centered comedy.

As the friendship between the two couples develops, Josh starts to see another, less appealing side to Jamie. The younger, fledgling filmmaker may act like a laid-back Mr. Cool, but he’s also an ambitious one, who knows how to capitalize on all the latest trends that Josh finds questionable.

An accomplished filmmaker and occasional Vineyard visitor, Mr. Baumbach enriches the relationships among the Gen-X and millennial couples, as well as the oedipal-flavored one between Josh and his father-in-law, with finesse. His satire has a gentle and affectionate side. All the actors — from Mr. Stiller and Ms. Watts to Mr. Driver and Ms. Seyfried, along with Mr. Grodin — are well cast and give spot-on performances. In the best romantic comedy tradition, all’s well that ends swell. Also cast in minor roles are my stepson Matthew Kaplan and step-grandson Victor Kaplan, Vineyard summer residents and friends of Mr. Baumbach, which provided a special feature of the film for me.

While We’re Young, Friday, April 24, and Sunday, April 26, 4 pm; Saturday, April 25, 7:30 pm, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center; Saturday, April 25, 12:45 pm and 3:45pm; Sunday, April 26, 1 pm and 7 pm; Tuesday, April 28, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm; Thursday, April 30, 4 pm and 7 pm, at Entertainment Cinemas.