Film Review: While We're Young

Ben Stiller, Dree Hemingway, Naomi Watts, and Adam Driver in While We're Young (Image © A24 Films). 

Ben Stiller, Dree Hemingway, Naomi Watts, and Adam Driver in While We're Young (Image © A24 Films). 

Noah Baumbach, responsible for the underrated classic The Squid and the Whale, is perhaps our nation’s prickliest, crabbiest director. Or at least that’s the understandable conclusion one might make from watching his movies, filled with unlikeable, acerbic protagonists. But then along came Frances Ha, a movie Bambach co-wrote with his now wife, the much younger Greta Gerwig. Frances Ha is a much more light and hopeful story, with far more affection for its characters than in Greenberg or Whale. We can only surmise that the vitality and life that a younger person brought into his life perhaps has altered Baumbach’s world view.

That’s dramatized here, in While We’re Young, a story about a forty-something couple, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who are dull and stuck in a rut, who meet by chance  and quite simply fall in something like love with a twenty-something couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried) . And in a flash, they’re dressing younger, taking hip-hop classes, riding bicycles, and inventing excuses to get out of social engagements with their boring old friends (in both senses of the word) who have committed the unpardonable sin of procreating. The first act or so is no different than the montage scene in a classic rom-com, where the new happy couple are scene exploring the city for the first time set to … oh, I don’t know, something from The Beach Boys. The jokes are broad, but quite funny. And the clichés are smartly subverted. Josh and Cornelia aren’t clueless technophobes; they embrace their iphones and Facebooks with zeal, while Jamie and Darby play records, have cracked old cell phones,  and are content with not knowing what “marzipan” means if they have to look it up. It’s quite lovely.  

But because this is Baumbach, and this movie is basically like an unholy merger of Frances and Greenberg, there are darker things ahead. Josh, you see, is a documentary filmmaker, currently working on his second documentary for the last eight years. Jamie is also a documentary filmmaker. And, well…things get prickly.

Adam Driver—whose face is a Picasso painting come to life—is the standout among the four, perfectly encapsulating  the simultaneous smugness and charm of the driven, ambitious millennial. Charles Grodin gets to represent the Baby Boomers as Cornelia’s father, also a documentarian, who responds to Jamie in ways that are entirely unexpected.

All in all, it’s not a perfect film—even at 97 minutes it feels a bit padded, and some of the jokes fall flat on arrival, but it’s an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. Unless you’re some dumb millennial smoking reefer on Venice Beach, that is. And if you are, get off my lawn.