by: Jay Carlson
With While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach has made his best film yet. Like the greatest comedies that came before, Baumbach finds unflinching honesty within the humor of his story, perfectly capturing the struggle of aging while fighting to not lose touch with youth. His latest film is chock full of razor-sharp wit and charm, with Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts equal parts hilarious and touching, turning in some of their best work to date.
Stiller and Watts play married couple, Josh and Cornelia who are quietly slipping into middle age without even realizing it. Their friends have started having kids, something they’re pretty sure they don’t want and may have passed them by. They want to grow old on their own terms and aren’t quite ready to enter the next phase of their lives.
There’s no specific moment that we become old, it’s a slow and gradual process and something we can’t really prepare for. One minute we’re young and then one day you realize that you’re looking in the window at a party you’ve grown too old for. It’s this transition that Baumbach has focused in on and created an honest and funny, yet touching and mature film.
Stiller’s Josh is a would-be documentarian who has labored for ten years on the follow-up to his one film. Watts plays Cornelia, Josh’s wife and film producer of her father’s (A great Charles Grodin) documentary films. Josh, years prior, was his one-time protégé who we now see struggling with the insecurity of not living up to the success of his mentor.
Josh’s endless insecurity is what draws him into the world of super creative and effortless hipster couple, Jamie (Adam Driver with some of his best work to date) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). They first approach Josh after the class he teaches at the New School and draw him in so quickly with their flattery that he never stops to question their motives. Cornelia does, but is eventually won over due her husband’s infectious enthusiasm and the increasing alienation she feels from their friends for not having a baby.
Josh and Cornelia soon embrace the youthful exuberance of the younger couple, with Josh dawning a similar hat to Jamie’s and riding a bike and Cornelia taking up a hip hop dance class with Darby.
Former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz is especially refreshing as a new dad who shoots Josh straight on what fatherhood really entails.
As the film unfolds Driver’s effortless hipster persona proves to be a costume for an extremely driven sociopath, a chameleon being whoever he needs to be to further his own agenda.
While We’re Young only suffers as the film shifts gears from a film focusing on the dynamics of the two couples and what they’re each getting from one other to instead focusing on the subplot of the ethics of Jamie’s documentary. Baumbach obviously has an opinion of what “reality” TV has done to our perception of actual reality and it’s a smart observation. It’s these scenes that feel less natural though, forcing the two couple’s journey to a final conclusion.
The misstep is minor and doesn’t detract from an otherwise smart and touching film that will surely spark debate and make you question what it means to get older.
Noah Baumbach has crafted a sharp love letter to what it means to grow up and grow old with a middle finger as the valediction. Instead of a story focusing on middle-aged people fighting the erosion of youth, While We’re Young smartly avoids typical moments of self-pity we’re accustomed to seeing in films about aging.