What It’s About
A wry observation about growing older, “While We’re Young” is brimming with nuggets of truth. This smart, witty comedy, written and directed by Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”), appears both universal and personal at its crossroads, and just may be his best work since “The Squid and the Whale.”
Baumbach favorite Ben Stiller (“Greenberg”) is Josh, an angsty documentary filmmaker whose work has been stalled by self-doubt. He and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in a listless rut when they become friends with a carefree young couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), whose Bohemian lifestyle and hipster vibe re-energize them. The middle-age couple, childless by choice, have unavoidably lost their cool factor and want it back.
And their best friends, played by Adam Horovitz (of the Beastie Boys) and Maria Dizzia, are consumed by their new baby, thus a shift in their social-life dynamic. So they immerse themselves in Jamie and Darby’s world. But messing with the universe has consequences. The conflicts are, for the most part, believable, especially when they desperately flail against insignificance, yielding humorous results. Detours in career directions and in life are ahead.
Perfectly cast, this ensemble doesn’t hit a false note. As the exasperated filmmaker, Ben Stiller hasn’t been this good in years, and the enormously appealing Adam Driver (“Girls”) proves his equal. They convey their characters’ quirks with shrewd comedic skills, and the pair work well together. Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”) displays both a flair for comedy and an easy chemistry with Stiller.
Vieweers of a certain age (OK, Baby Boomers) might recognize music legend Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary) as Ira Mandelstam, Josh’s documentary subject. It’s a pleasure to see Charles Grodin (“Beethoven”) as Cornelia’s dad, a legendary documentarian.
When it’s clashing cultures, pointing out differences between generations, and reflecting on changes as we age, the film is spot-on and flat-out funny. The snappy script has elements of good Woody Allen movies, and is insightful about modern relationships and parenthood as well.
The movie is peppered with amusing pop culture references and effective locations, too.
What Doesn’t Work
Baumbach has a lot to say, and that can be problematic here. The movie veers in another direction when Jamie’s motives and methods are questioned regarding a documentary project. Suddenly, the movie turns into “Broadcast News.” While the plot twist appears to be necessary to conclude story lines, this detour seems out of place. Perhaps a sharper focus on their life issues would have resonated better.
At its best, “While We’re Young” pokes fun at our resistance to change our ways and deny what getting older does to us physically and emotionally. It’s a midlife crisis many can identify with, no matter what label they give our segment of society.
Like death and taxes, getting older is inevitable. How we deal with it says a lot about us, and Baumbach holds up a mirror to us all in an entertaining, comical way.