WHILE WE'RE YOUNG
2015, R, 97 mins.
2015, R, 97 mins.
Ben Stiller as Josh / Adam Driver as Jamie / Amanda Seyfried as Darby / Naomi Watts as Cornelia / Brady Corbet as Ken
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach
I knew the precise moment when I realized that I was – the horror! – getting old.
Years ago I woke up to excruciating lower back pain that was radiating through my legs and up my spin. I thought I was going to need hospitalization. Turns out – after some x-rays – that I had developed arthritis. I was in my late thirties at the time. There’s a similar scene that occupies Noah Baumbach’s newest dramedy WHILE WE’RE YOUNG that shows fortysomething Josh (Ben Stiller) being matter-of-factly told that he has arthritis by his physician. Predictably, he’s in a modest state of denial, but the doctor steadfastly maintains that it’s a normal occurrence for men of his "advancing" years.
is 44-years-old now (the same age of his main character), so you can
definitely sense that the filmmaker is working through some stage of midlife crisis via his work here.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG is a frequently hysterical and intrinsically
well-observed document of the nature of how people approaching middle age
deal with such alarming propositions.
When it’s not poignantly and honestly dealing with the general
malaise that its aging Gen X’ers are going through, the film also
examines the nature of the current hipster generation and compellingly
illustrates the push-pull dynamic between young and old.
Yet, through Baumbach’s unique viewfinder, he neither takes cheap
shots at his characters, nor does he let them off the hook either from his
Josh is married to Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and, for the most part, they
live a fairly happy and content life in New York, despite being somewhat
dissatisfied with their inability to have children (her infertility is a
major stumbling block). Adding
tangible pressure to their marriage is the fact that Josh is a struggling
documentary filmmaker that’s been working on his passion project for
nearly a decade, mostly because he’s a stubborn perfectionist…but
mostly because he doesn’t seem to really know what his film is trying to
be about. Nevertheless, Josh
and Cornelia seem comfortable with their situation and go to great lengths
to let everyone around them know – including their other married friends with
children – how free and liberating life is without having a buddle of
though, Josh and Cornelia are miserable. The
couple have a newfound spark in their lives when they meet a young twentysomething couple in the form of Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda
Siegfried) via one of the college courses that Josh teaches.
There’s something just energizing about the
throw-caution-to-the-wind bohemian lifestyle that Jamie and Darby exist
in, which is a stark contrast to Josh and Cornelia’s existence.
The couples begin a rather unlikely friendship, mostly because
Jamie is a filmmaker in his own right that greatly looks up to and admires
Josh’s work. Jamie himself
is working on his own pet film project, and at the height of his new
friendship with Josh he asks his older pal for help assembling it.
Initially, Josh is humbled and ecstatic to help Jamie, but as
events begin to unfold that hint at other ulterior and duplicitous
motives behind Jamie’s film (which starts to get more attention than
Josh’s won work), Josh begins to realize that all is not what it seems
WE’RE YOUNG is sort of a spiritual sequel to Baumbach’s own FRANCES
HA, a film that dealt with young people trying to eek out a loving
in The Big Apple, but failed miserable at nearly every turn.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG dissects both old and young generations with
equal enthusiasm, highlighting the often pathetic attempts of Josh and
Cornelia to recapture their youth via their new younger friends.
Even though Josh and Cornelia perceive themselves as responsible
and mature adults, the intoxicating vortex of possibilities that Jamie and
Darby introduce to them becomes endlessly appealing.
Josh and Cornelia aren’t completely naive fools, mind you, but
there is something inherently sad about seeing them try to shrug off the
effects of aging while exposing themselves to all of the youthful pursuits
of Jamie and Darby.
is often merciless with how he pokes fun at his characters of both
generations here. He skewers
hipster culture for how little personal responsibility they seem to take
for anything (like, for instance, Jamie’s incessant unwillingness to
pick up a check at a restaurant, leaving Josh to pay) and for the
frustratingly effortless manner that they make Josh and Cornelia feel old.
There is something undeniably appealing about the young couple,
though, in how they shun modern technology (they ride bicycles, make their
own ice cream, listen to vinyl, play board games, and watch movies on VHS
tapes), which is starkly contrasted to how Josh and Cornelia live a
decidedly non-retro life of iPhones, Netflix, and constant online
surfing for pleasure. Baumbach does show fairness in portraying one specific flaw
in both generations: everyone in the film seems to have entitlement
issues. Josh thinks that he
deserves recognition for his years of dedication for film work, whereas
Jamie feels that he should just have it immediately without the hard work.
cast here is wonderfully assembled and displays symbiotic chemistry
throughout. Stiller (who was
ingenious playing a deeply dislikeable curmudgeon in Baumbach’s GREENBERG)
is in his element playing up to his character's nagging sense of self-doubt
and unease. Watts too is
engaging and credible playing his wife, having the tricky task of evoking Cornelia's
headstrong vitality and vulnerability at the same time.
Driver and Seyfried perhaps have the trickier performance tasks in
the film, especially Driver for the way he relays a young man that seems
wide-eyed, childlike and carefree on the outside, but maintains hidden
motives underneath a falsely congenial façade.
And how lovely is it to see Charles Grodin make an appearance in a
small, but crucial role as Josh’s semi-estranged father.
His moments with Stiller – as he tries to dish out honest career
advice, much to Josh’s increased agitation – are among the film’s
more honestly rendered – and perversely funny moments.
makes a few errors in his third act in terms of showing the dueling war of
directors between Jamie and Josh that feels a bit distracting (the
sub-theme of auteur truth and integrity in documentary filmmaking seems
like it belongs in a whole other film altogether).
And maybe, near the end, Baumbach also lets his Gen X'er characters off
a bit too easily and paints the Millennials too harshly and broadly as
selfish and uncaring opportunists that are willing to lie and cheat their
way to the top. However, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG has a grand time poking holes in
its various New York subcultures and is wickedly unflinching for showing
the intergenerational stresses and jealousies that develop between its
well meaning, but deeply flawed characters.
In the end, the film poses an intriguing question – who’s more
self-servingly conceited and hollow: Gen X'ers or Millennials?
course, as a man that just turned 40…I’d have to say the Millennials.
Yet, it could be my advancing years doing the talking.