“While We’re Young” could have also been called, “Are We Old?” It takes a light look at generational divides from the perspective of the late thirties, forty-something contingent born before 1980. Personally, it all comes off a little like crotchety naval gazing generation Xers worrying that their incredible lives are just not enough.
Writer and Director Noah Baumbach is old and getting older. Ben Stiller and Josh, the character he plays, are in the same place. Most of my problems with the film come from this perspective. The film has to have a perspective though and it’s not garish with the point of view. It just sort of communicates that way and I don’t like it because I don’t really like people who are 40 talking about how it is just “so hard” to have “lots of money” and “creative freedom.” Josh is a documentary filmmaker who has spent 10 years working on the same documentary. I have nothing against taking a long time releasing a project. My favorite two films were made by pretty much one guy who made audiences wait nine years for the second film. Josh is clearly the main character here and the movie suffers for Stiller’s weaker performance.
This film wants to say something but it feels trapped in the trappings of generational texture. A lot of the comedy moments come from this texture, which the film nails by the way. Josh meets Jamie after one of the classes he teaches and they along with their wives become fast friends despite the 15+ year age gap. A Brooklyn “street beach” party that is lawless with inflatable beach balls, obsessions with hot dads, handmade random health foods, and even some more disconcerting things, like the acceptance of digital theft, show up in this film as new phenomena Josh has to deal with. Adam Driver’s Jamie writes on old typewriters and watches VHS tapes he buys online. He’s also a bit of a phony, striking a pose to get what he wants. He seems cool and alive to Josh who is desperate for those two things.
The generational conflict and themes are not dramatized though. Anything that Baumbach wants to say he puts in the mouth’s of the characters. The story mainly revolves around Josh trying to get his documentary done and Jamie trying to use Josh for his own documentary aspirations. It’s the character relationships around these bones that are the best part of the film. Darby, Jamie’s wife, is played by Amanda Seyfried and Cornelia, Josh’s wife, is played by Naomi Watts. Both are pretty incredible in the parts they play. The soul of the film is Cornelia who puts on airs like she doesn’t want kids to mask the fact that she tried and never could.
Largely, “While We’re Young” is fine. It was clever and funny enough. There’s a great bit with a shaman and some old fashioned puke based comedy that I enjoyed. The documentary plot isn’t in the same league as the real feeling moments where Naomi Watts is on screen. I wish the film weaved the themes into the dramatic action in a more comprehensive way. You’ll probably like it but it’s not soaring to new highs or revealing deep truths. The solution to feeling lifeless or wistful, the movie concludes, is to just travel abroad more which kind of bummed me out.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with comedies that don’t seem to be saying anything but the textural qualities make While We’re Young watchable. This film will have you ranting about or ranting about people who rant about “millennials” in lobby conversations after.
“While We’re Young” is now playing in the Oriental Theatre.