Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are Josh and Cornelia Srebnick, a middle aged middling couple in modern Brooklyn. They lead what appears to be relatively normal lives. Josh is a struggling documentarian working on his next project (for the last 10 years) and Cornelia is a producer for her father, whom is also a documentarian. The couple is seemingly drifting through life half speed as they deal with issues people of their age often do. They have friends with kids, but they have none, and they appeal to the idea this allows them freedom, though they do not utilize any of that so called freedom. Then their life changes when they meet a young couple that just happens to walk into Josh’s night class. Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), are a twenty-something married couple living an altruistic lifestyle. They befriend Josh and Cornelia, they woo them with oodles of admiration and charm, but this may have all been under false pretences and Jamie may have his own selfish ambitions afoot.
Trends are cyclical, and what was cool 20 years ago may return to the forefront again. Noah Baumbach’s (The Fantastic Mr. Fox) While We’re Young attempts to bridge the gap between the boomers and “generation x” in an amusingly articulate and at times pompous manner. With an array of films under his belt, numerous writing credits and even a few collaborations with famed Indie stud Wes Anderson, Baumbach’s While We’re Young is certainly entertaining and funny, while also being a bit arrogant. Cinematically, the film is personal, with a focus on documentarians, it plays like a documentary itself. Likely the most autobiographical in nature since Baumbach’s The Squid and The Whale. Featuring Josh, a tense and pretentious filmmaker, who believes he is the smartest person in the room at all times, thrilled by youth and possibility, when meeting a younger free wheeling couple. On it’s surface, While We’re Young is a study into the generational divide, and cycle of trends that has brought the hipster movement into the 21st century. Realistically this film, at it’s core, is a character study about discovering one’s self and one’s purpose.
The most promising moments of the film come from Stiller and Watts. The two share a stark dynamic and provide a surreal look into a fledgling couple sleepwalking through their lives as they search for purpose in each other. Stiller is at his best here, taking on the role of a neurotically insecure, yet egotistically arrogant filmmaker, that comes off like a classic Woody Allen character. While Stiller was given a rich material to sink his teeth into, Watts had to do with a much less interesting role. Unfortunately the way Cornelia was written makes it so that she has no real sensibility. She appears to have no dedication professionally or intellectually here. However Watts still manages to charm her way through the film. She plays off of Stillers neuroses, and maneuvers through scenes with Driver an Seyfried with veterans grace.
Opposite our middle aged duo, are their much younger counterparts. Driver and Seyfried are Jamie and Darby, the hipster king and queen. A pair of sharp kids that make their own ice cream, collect vinyl, use a typewriter, reject social media, and have “city street beach parties.” There is this looming cloud of darkness that flutters over this film overshadowing its greatest moments. That darkness is Adam Driver. While he doesn’t appear to do anything particularly egregious, he by no means over acts or phones it in, but never the less, his schtick wears thin pretty quickly. Driver has yet to really branch out and diversify in any role he’s had, so it’s no surprise we get more of the same with him here. He puts forward one of the most unlikable performances in quite some time, and is the source of discontent surrounding this film. He is dull witted, and not overly funny, hes delivery is oddly paced against the rest of the cast and his characters actions feel contrived. Seyfried is nothing more than the victim of a shallow character. She unfortunately is not given much to work with. She is charming in her moments on screen, however, she is sadly reduced to playing sidekick to an otherwise obnoxious Driver.
While the general story is quite interesting and the final 15 or so minutes of the film are absolutely fantastic, there were several hokey detours that, if placed into a more mainstream comedy, would have fit in perfectly. This includes a communal gathering with a guru involving hallucinogens, and an oddly placed scene involving a hip hop dance class that just creates for some additional awkward moments later on. The bigger issue at hand, are that the poorly written female characters juxtaposed to the rich vibrancy of their male counterparts leaves an imbalance that becomes distracting.
In the waning moments of While We’re Young, we are given perhaps the most philosophical aside the feature offers. The idea that the younger generation is living under the umbrella that no one truly owns anything anymore, and that everything belongs to everybody when it comes to intellectual property. This sweeping concept, is met with Stiller’s Josh bellowing that there is a difference between sharing and stealing. This is easily one of the more powerful scenes in any Baumbach film to date and closes the film on the highest of notes. At times, While We’re Young is just trying too hard to be witty, and in turn feels like that annoying hipster that believes everything they say is profoundly intelligent. Arrogance can be ok at times, but here it shrouds the film detracting from the underlying theme and performances. Baumbach is trying to prove that he is the smartest person in the room and it comes off a bit pretentious.
The film struggles to grasp it’s audience fully until it’s final frames. At the end of the day, it’s just not funny enough or emotionally involving enough to engage broader markets. Still able to remain buoyant and lively, due in no small part to the performances of Stiller and Watts and even Peter Yarrow as Cornelia’s successful father Ira, playing an authoritative and supportive figure that provides some of the best asides with Stiller. While not Baumbach’s finest work While We’re Young brings with it some memorable moments and performances guaranteed to keep you entertained throughout.
3/5 Not Bad Bro