Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Premise: A middle aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) befriends a pair of young hipsters (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). As they hang out the older couple attempt to embrace youth culture.
What Works: While We’re Young centers on the relationship between Generation Xers’s who are now well into middle age and Millennials who are now in the midst of adulthood. This picture is a thoughtful story of the differences between members of those generations and although it centers upon the older couple the film is neither a wistful longing for youth nor a screed against the younger generation. Rather, While We’re Young is really about the way in which generations talk past each other and the filmmakers play on the absurdities of both Generation X and Millennial culture. Ben Stiller’s character is a documentary filmmaker who has been wrestling with the same project for the past eight years, constantly shooting new footage and editing the film but never completing it. He is an academic and cinematic purist who believes in the importance of process as well as product. That means his notion of documentary filmmaking is rooted in the integrity of the way the film was made, not just what ends up on the screen. He gets involved with a younger documentarian, played by Adam Driver, who initially appears to have the same passions but the two come into conflict because of generational differences regarding truth, integrity, and intellectual property. This tension comes to a head in a scene that, in an ordinary movie, would be the final showdown. Admirably, the filmmakers of While We’re Young do not give the movie over to the cliché moment of truth. Instead what emerges is the realization that the world has shifted and that Stiller’s character has been left behind. This movie features one of Ben Stiller’s best performances in some time. His nervous beta male shtick really works here as a guy whose neurosis are given some deeper root. Naomi Watts plays his wife and there is a lot going on beneath the surface of her character. She and her husband are childless and she is clearly unfulfilled as a result but at the same time she is rightly freaked out by the cult of motherhood that her female peers participate in. Like many Noah Baumbach films While We’re Young is about characters trying to grow up and finding that what it means to be an adult is not always clearly demarcated.
What Doesn’t: While We’re Young is yet another movie about bohemian types living in New York City. This film does the familiar character types and their struggles better than most but nevertheless the tenor of the movie is familiar from television shows like Girls and movies like Frances Ha and Obvious Child. The themes of While We’re Young get a bit muddled in the ending. One of the constant concerns of the older couple is their childless marriage. It’s established that they tried to have kids in the past but it didn’t work out and the husband and wife appear to have accepted that they will not become parents. Part of the admirable honesty of While We’re Young is found in the way this film recognizes the finiteness of life. A lot of Hollywood films, and mainstream culture for that matter, entertain the delusion that if we just work hard enough and dream big enough everything we hope for will eventually come to pass. The truth is that no one really gets to “have it all” and sometimes life events don’t materialize or aren’t fulfilling in the way that we expect. While We’re Young initially confirms that truth but the filmmakers waffle in the ending.
DVD extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: While We’re Young covers familiar territory of writer and director Noah Baumbach but it is also a more mature and more complex film than others that he’s made. This is one of the best and most interesting films about the intersections and deviations between Generation Xers and Millennials.
Episode: #561 (September 27, 2015)