Are you old? What is old? What is young? Are not young people truly terrifying? The latter is a sentiment we can all get on board with no matter our ages. We do not like to be told that we are old, and we really do not enjoy seeing the new youth. They are different and they are adventurous. Getting over the answers to these questions is in part what Noah Baumbach’s latest American indie is about. The other part is about different styles of creation and the value of process over product. Much like when the middle-aged and the new youth collide, when these two parts overlap it causes friction.
Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) are a childless married couple in their 40s. When they meet Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), a married pair in their mid-to-late twenties, Josh becomes obsessed with them and their youthful energy. However Josh’s growing desire to imitate the younger couple puts a strain on his relationship with Cornelia, and with their other older friends.
The first half of While We’re Young addresses the generational gap between Josh and Cornelia, and Jamie and Darby. It is ironic but somewhat truthful that the older couple are more reliant on iPhones and Netflix than the younger couple, who build their own furniture, live in a refurbished loft, and have stacks of records and video tapes. They are reacting against the strides made in their lifetime, while Stiller and Watts’ characters embrace them. This is the more charming and easily defined part of the film, as Josh and Cornelia find themselves experimenting and trying new things – a trilby for him, hip-hop for her. Watts and Seyfried are the standouts of the film. It is a shame that it focusses so much on the egos of the men, because they are both capable in this film and elsewhere of playing more than support roles. They’re fun, likeable, and each bearing more of the weight of their respective relationships. Stiller and Driver meanwhile have the difficult task of remaining watchable and engaging when they are being less than their likeable selves. A task which it is fair to say they succeed at.
In fact as far as the craft of the film goes, there’s barely a foot wrong. What throws it off is the shift in tone, from something more playful and meditative early on, to something equally laid-back but with a much clearer focus in story terms. As Josh helps Jamie out with a documentary, his own work comes more into question, and Jamie appears to manipulate him and his resources. This winds up creating a very interesting dialogue about the value of process over end results. Josh values Jamie’s interest in the former, whereas he has problems collaborating and settling, focussing on success. Yet as the film develops it shows that it’s not as clear cut. To say more would be to spoil too much, but it is fair to say that this shift will throw off more casual viewers that are expecting something more light-hearted.
While We’re Young, directed by Noah Baumbach, is distributed in the UK by Film Nation, Certificate 15