Film Review – While We’re Young
While We're Young
Noah Baumbach‘s films are often alleged to be at least partially autobiographical which, for anyone who has seen his fantastic The Squid and the Whale, is a disturbing notion indeed. Unflinching in its portrayal of a deteriorated family, Squid led the way to his equally harrowing (if less successful) efforts, Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg. A trilogy of crippling unhappiness so well executed you leave them feeling as exhausted as you do exhilarated. In 2012’s decidedly charming Frances Ha, Baumbach showed off a lighter side that he now seems to have embraced. Is While We’re Young an indication he’s gone full-blown softie on us? If so, at least he’s doing it right.
Greenberg‘s Ben Stiller reunites with Baumbach to play Josh, a documentarian living in the shadow of his more successful father-in-law (a dynamite Charles Grodin), also a filmmaker. Josh is married to his producing partner Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and they are, for all intents and purposes, a happy couple. Bored maybe, but happy. Josh is nearly a decade into his latest directorial project and doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea what it’s even about. In a mostly successful running gag, Josh continually and long-windedly attempts to explain the premise to any that ask, always settling on some version of “It’s about America, basically.”
To supplement his malaise, Josh half-heartedly teaches a college course on the side. It is here we meet Jamie (Girls‘ Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young couple apparently enamored with Josh’s previous work. (When asked how he even knew of it, Jamie explains he purchased a VHS on eBay. Now that’s commitment!) Perhaps recognizing a little of himself in Jamie, an ambitious dreamer, Josh ingratiates himself in their lives. Cornelia is initially skeptical of the friendship but is soon swayed by their seeming sincerity and love of hip hop dancing. It’s, as they say, on.
While We’re Young pokes quite a bit of fun at the Bohemian/hipster lifestyle of Jamie and Darby without ever quite undermining it. A particularly sharp scene finds Jamie playfully scolding Josh for offering to Google a fact on his phone, arguing there’s more fun to be had in not knowing. The newfound friendship sparks new life in the older couple while simultaneously alienating their more age-appropriate friends. Malina (Maria Dizzia, Orange is the New Black) and Fletcher (Beastie Boys‘ Adam Horovitz…you read that right) are new parents and seem resentful Josh and Cornelia are not following suit. Josh’s sudden fondness for fedoras probably isn’t helping either.
Ah, but all is not as it seems. Motivations are uncovered and deception revealed. It would be unfair to divulge the “twists” in store, but I will argue they’re mostly unnecessary. As a character study, Young is quite effective. To mire it down with a Neil LaBute-like gut punch in the third act only threatens to tarnish the goodwill its first hour offers in spades. The reveal doesn’t derail the movie to a drastic degree and actually leads to some powerful moments, but with a smidge more confidence I think Baumbach could have gotten there more naturally. As it stands, While We’re Young is a charming mid-life crisis comedy and a stellar showcase for its outstanding stable of actors. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some VHS tapes to find on eBay.