Noah Baumbach has directed a plethora of films, which are always unique and low-key takes on hitting a rough patch in life, whether it’s at middle-age, during your twenty-something years, or otherwise. Baumbach turns the film into something more, so making it a bit unpredictable, which is refreshing. And so While We’re Young is probably one of the most funny and relatable films he’s ever made.
Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) are a middle-aged married couple with no kids. They love each other, but lately their marriage and their life haven’t really been going anywhere, nor has it been as exciting as it used to be. Josh is a documentary filmmaker who’s becoming more and more irritable while filming the convoluted rough 6-hours of footage documentary following his first successful film 8 years prior. Cornelia is a producer on her father’s (Charles Grodin) films. He’s a famous documentarian and an inspiration to Josh.
Josh and Cornelia meet Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) after they make an appearance at one of Josh’s lectures. The elder couple immediately takes to the younger and they’re soon hanging out with each other constantly, attending bohemian-style events, with Darby even taking Cornelia to a hip-hop class. Josh is particularly smitten with Jamie because of his admiration of his work, his love of all things from Josh’s generation, and his positive attitude and energy. Cornelia hangs out with Darby, who is seemingly content with doing nothing, making her own ice cream, and introducing Cornelia to new things. And between Josh and Cornelia trying to find out where they fit in, events take an interesting turn after new information causes Josh to question everything.
Ben Stiller should do these kinds of films more often. I often forget how wonderful he can be when he’s not in a strictly comedic role. He gets to stretch his acting chops a bit more, while still maintaining the ability to be funny in an almost snarky, but definitely bitter way. But this is also thanks to Baumbach’s script, which is filled with funny moments, realism, and is able to grapple with the different emotions lurking behind and just on the surface of these characters. The issues Stiller and Watts’s characters are struggling with are very relatable, right down to Watts attending a baby class with her new mommy friend Marina (Maria Dizzia) that makes her uncomfortable, and Stiller finding out he has arthritis and thus realizes that he’s getting older.
Baumbach could have had the film be just about Josh and Cornelia, but he also infuses the story with a side plot that has Josh questioning Jamie’s approach to documentary filmmaking. Josh’s frustration with his own film, which is going nowhere, and Jamie’s sudden success eat away at him. Baumbach plays with the generational archetypes: Josh plays by the rules, respects the history and steps it takes to make a documentary, while Jamie is overly ambitious and uses any means to get what he wants for his film. Baumbach addresses their different styles of going about things by making it a generational gap. As far as who comes out on top is a question Baumbach answers respectfully and without blasting one way over the other.
While We’re Young is well-written, well-cast, and the ending not as easily predictable. One can sympathize with all the characters (Adam Driver as well, even when his character veers off into shady territory) in many ways and no matter what age. They’re transparent and the plot has more than the average dealing with getting older kind of film. Amanda Seyfried is the only character, however, to get a bit pushed to the side and while she’s likable, we don’t get behind her motivations, which leaves her on the side a lot of the time. Regardless of this minor nitpick, Noah Baumbach’s script is funny and relatable and possibly some of his best work so far.