While We’re Young, 2015.
Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach.
Starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Maria Dizzia, Charles Grodin and Adam Horovitz.
A middle-aged couple’s life is turned upside down when they meet a young hipster couple.
As we get older, our priorities naturally begin to shift, as does our outlook on life. It’s that moment, however, when we begin uttering the words “when I was young” that may find some of us hitting the panic button. That moment is what’s explored in Noah Baumbach’s latest film While We’re Young, starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, and let’s just say it provides a perfect platform for a thoughtful and oftentimes hilarious commentary on the many challenges of growing old.
Josh Srebnick (Stiller) is a mid-40s filmmaker who’s found himself amidst a career crisis, struggling to complete a seemingly impossible six-hour documentary with no commercial appeal. It’s already a 10-year project in the making and, thanks to the unconditional support from his loving wife Cornelia (Watts), it could go on for years to come—a fact that’s beginning to weigh on both of them. Adding to their current frustrations are their judgmental best friends, played by Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz (The Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock), who recently gave birth to their first child Willow and have since begun pestering for Josh and Cornelia to do the same. To top things off, Josh and Cornelia long-ago decided not to have children (mostly due to past pregnancy complications) and have since grown more staunch in their belief that it has afforded them a wealth of personal freedoms.
Like any Baumbach film, the bulk of the beauty comes from the filmmaker’s always-witty and cringingly honest dialogue. His mastery over his material allows him the ability to tackle the most serious and uncomfortable of life situations, all the while cracking his audience up almost beat for beat. Just like in Greenberg, much of the comedy in Baumbach’s While We’re Young is derived from Stiller’s wonderfully nuanced performance which, when coupled with Driver (who plays the much younger, aspiring documentarian Jamie), is taken to a whole ‘nother level.
Upon meeting Jamie and his Brooklyn hipster wife Darby (Seyfried) after one of his lectures, Josh is immediately taken with the young, ultra hip and enthusiastic couple. After an interesting “getting to know you” dinner, Josh and wife Cornelia (but mostly Josh) find themselves inspired by their youthful counterparts, to the point of becoming best friends. As the couples’ unorthodox friendship blossoms, Josh offers Jamie his filmmaking guidance and connections for the latter’s documentary project—a decision that leads to all sorts of unforeseen consequences. When Josh learns his younger protegé hasn’t exactly been forthright with his intentions, he devises his own plan to expose Jamie for the fraud he believes him to be.
As you can imagine, the dynamic between Driver and Stiller is quite hilarious. One of their finer moments comes from a mutual bike ride together, during which they grip one another’s handlebars—a true sign of trust. When Josh experiences a sharp back pain that forces him to pull over, Jamie continues on cruising, completely oblivious to his new friend’s injury. In this very clever and comedic shot (in which the audience leaves Josh behind), Baumbach establishes several things; Jamie is self-absorbed, Josh is getting old and the duo’s friendship probably isn’t all that it seems. It also hints at the broader ignorance of youth as well as the world’s unwillingness to be held back by those who can’t keep up.
Fans who are familiar with Baumbach’s filmography will immediately see how his earlier efforts have led to him to While We’re Young. It’s almost as if we’re seeing what happens when you let Roger Greenberg coexist with Lev (Frances Ha) and, I can honestly say, the results are as hilarious as they are captivating. The juxtaposition created by Baumbach, and probably most notably portrayed in the breezy montage where Josh and Cornelia engage with new technology like iPads and Netflix while Jamie and Darby watch VHS tapes, listen to vinyl and play RISK, offers great social commentary, never void of laughs.
There are dozens of standout scenes and sequences in While We’re Young that will stick with you long after the credits roll, much do to the film’s amazingly talented cast and its brilliantly-crafted characters. Watts certainly checked her fears at the door and resultingly delivered some of her best comedic work since I Heart Huckabees. One of the film’s funniest moments, when Cornelia joins Hip Hop dance class, comes solely from her unabashed and spot-on comic instincts. Among other funny scenes is one where Josh screens his lengthy documentary for his father-in-law Leslie (Charles Grodin). In the scene, the two actors share an undeniable onscreen chemistry which allows them to run the gamut of emotion before erupting in a slammed-door exit by Stiller’s Josh—not complete until his father-in-law utters the scene’s final (most-hilarious) words.
With While We’re Young, Baumbach has successfully delivered a unique view inside the minds of the modern insecure 40-something. It blends elements of indie, comedy, drama and coming-of-age to create a one-of-a-kind story about growing older. The film is wonderfully shot by Sam Levy and was cut with precision by editor Jennifer Lame. It has a subtle yet very effective soundtrack, in part thanks to James Murphy, who contributed original music including a soothing cover of David Bowie’s “Golden Years.” All in all, the film is a funny, perceptive and enjoyable watch that will certainly get better with repeated viewings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
William Fanelli is contributor to Flickering Myth – You can follow him on Twitter