A middle-aged couple’s career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives.
‘While We’re Young’, the 8th film from Noah Baumbach, is arguably his best work to date – certainly it’s his most mature. The film is about a couple in their 40’s (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts), who find themselves increasingly settling into a routine as most of their friends start having children. Josh (Stiller) is a documentarian struggling to complete a lengthy piece of work that he’s spent the last 10 years on, whilst Cornelia (Watts) lives in the shadow of her famous dad (Charles Grodin), also a filmmaker. When they meet a younger, hip couple (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), who remind them of themselves when they were younger, their lives are changed as they start to grow close.
Noah Baumbach has crafted an excellent study of human behaviour, drawing in themes of ambition, regret and growing older. He does this successfully by telling an entertaining story combined with plenty of laughs that make the film enjoyable on surface level as well. As a viewer, I’m closer in age to Jamie and Darby, but can relate to Josh and Cornelia’s environment just as well. The performances are all excellent, with perhaps Amanda Seyfried’s Darby having the least to do out of the core group (to be fair, Baumbach’s last film, ‘Frances Ha’ told a story about a character similar to Darby, played by Greta Gerwig in that case). Adam Driver is a very talented actor and I’m pleased to see him starting to get more parts (most will know him from ‘Girls’ or the Coen Brothers ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and he’ll be in the new ‘Star Wars’ later this year), and he relishes the chance to play a well developed character with multiple shades to him. Stiller is perhaps the main viewpoint and he continues a strong run of form when he steers clear of overly comedic parts after 2013’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’.
The film is about the themes of success and what we want to achieve out of life – it doesn’t argue one way or the other, but it presents the reality of having children against the alternative of continuing to live life as you always had. Baumbach’s point, I think, is that ultimately everyone will settle into some degree of routine when they get comfortable within a relationship and within their life. This is juxtaposed against Josh’s career, where he struggles to come to terms with a younger person making quicker progress and gaining more success than he had. The film also takes an interesting approach to the use of technology, with Jamie and Darby all using vinyl and watching films on VHS whereas Josh and Cornelia are all hooked into technology, using iPads for everything and watching Netflix. There’s a solid point about a generation that’s became overly familiar with technology at the expense of living in the real world and enjoying life, with younger generations almost starting to rebel against that to an extent.
The film takes a sharp and ballsy turn towards the end of the film, which mostly worked because of the strong setup in building Stiller’s character, his insecurities and his ambitions. Josh relates to Jamie because he sees so much of himself in him, and this makes the plot development all the harder to take (I’ll avoid details for spoiler reasons!). Beyond that, the film is filled with terrific scenes, particularly a wonderful sequence at a mother/baby dance class that really captures the inherent madness of that kind of environment through Cornelia’s viewpoint and how it would be impossible to relate to the situation without a kid. Baumbach directs this cleverly, keeping the camera on Watts intensely and allowing her facial movements to tell its own story.
‘While We’re Young’ is a terrific film about getting old and settling into routine, with a very funny script, great performances and a strong soundtrack throughout.
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Maria Dizzia, Adam Horovitz and Charles Grodin