Noah Baumbach has made a career out of making movies about unlikable or generally unhappy characters. Many of his walking human complexities exist in various stages of lethargy, denial, or dissatisfaction. But at the same time the characters he creates drip with humanity and they are fascinating to watch. Yet with all of that being said, I don’t always fully go for his movies.
“While We’re Young” is another of Baumbach’s mixed bags. It is a sincere and genuinely human comedy that connects due to its observational honesty and its willingness to address real emotional struggles. But like a few other Baumbach projects, it doesn’t fully see its promise through and the final act of the film wanders away from what makes the story initially so compelling.
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia Schrebnick, a middle-aged couple living in New York City. Their past difficulties in having a baby are highlighted with the birth of their best friends’ daughter. Josh and Cornelia attempt to brush aside their feelings of disappointment and unfulfillment by focusing on the freedoms they have as a family of two. But even that is effected by the plain ol’ fact that they are just getting old.
Josh is a movie documentarian who has been stuck in the rut of an eight year film project that shows no signs of nearing completion. After teaching a continuing education class at a local college he is approached by young twenty something couple Jamie and Darby Massey (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). The Massey’s invite Josh and Cornelia to dinner where we learn Jamie is an aspiring documentarian and a huge fan of Josh’s first film.
Josh and Cornelia grow infatuated with their new young hipster friends and their exaggerated retro styles. They feel young and energetic whenever they are around Jamie and Darby and they begin feeling a disconnect with their old friends. But is this simply a refuge from their insecurities about getting older, or is the old adage correct – you’re only as old as you feel?
For most of the film Baumbach explores that question through a number of smart and witty conversations and situations. We see the Schrebnick’s, particularly Josh, open up and embrace new things. He puts aside some of his closed-minded, exclusionist perspectives and sees creativity and life in general through a new lens. But at the same time Baumbach is shrewdly pointing a finger, not at Josh but at the Masseys; asking compelling questions about the younger generation.
Baumbach’s film works on so many levels but it also has its flaws. Stiller and Watts each convincingly play their individual parts. Yet there are moments where I couldn’t quite buy into them as a couple. There are also a few moments where the normal sharp wit gives way to the juvenile. For example, an Ayahuasca scene leads to a running vomit gag that never seems to end. I mean who doesn’t laugh at vomit, right? And the biggest problem is in the last act when the story loses its focus a bit and ventures off in a direction that simply wasn’t that interesting.
Baumbach is a unique filmmaker who tells unique stories. His tales rarely venture outside of his confined view of life, love, and relationships but that’s what provides his films with their own flavor. “While We’re Young” gives its audience things to ponder and to chew on while also being deftly funny and unflinchingly human. It just can’t quite see its strengths through till the end. It’s still a good film. Not “Frances Ha” good but hey…
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS