An acerbic and amusing comedy about midlife crisis and generation gap written and directed by Noah Baumbach, While We’re Young made me feel keenly aware of which side of the gap I fall on, despite not being technically middle-aged.
The lead characters, played by Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller, are a married New York couple; Josh is a once-promising documentary filmmaker who’s now a bundle of suppressed resentment and unfulfilled ambitions. He’s spent eight years on his latest project, a long, serious and wilfully boring documentary that might never get finished, and has to make money teaching film theory. He has a happy marriage with Cornelia but dislikes his intimidatingly successful father-in-law, himself a documentary filmmaker. Josh and Cornelia, whose wish for kids came to a few fruitless attempts, feel like they’re losing their close same-age friends to babydom and are awkward and self-conscious about not having children, despite their protestations.
At this vulnerable moment, Josh meets a bubbly bright-eyed 20-something couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), both hipsters through and through: she makes artisanal ice cream, he wears a hat, they drive bicycles everywhere, take walks along railway tracks at night and have a giant vinyl collection. I would tell these kids to get off my laaaawn but Josh is instantly smitten with how much more engaged, spontaneous, free and passionate they appear to be. It helps that Jamie, an aspiring filmmaker, fawns all over Josh’s work and lavishes him with praise, repeatedly putting his palms together in a worshipful gesture. Cornelia is a tad less sure about this friendship, but finds she gets along well with Darby and gets roped into her activities like a hip-hop class (Naomi Watts should definitely do more physical comedy).
If this magical rejuvenating friendship sounds too good to be true, surprise surprise it is. The first signs are subtle, like Jamie and Darby’s easy acceptance of Josh offering to pay for their lunch. The events that unfold reveal Jamie’s sense of entitlement and lack of scruple, while at the same time exposing Josh’s own pettiness and insecurity at the realisation that the younger man might actually be more talented than him and better equipped for success he so desperately craves.
While the film mocks Josh and Cornelia and the ridiculousness of trying to emulate the young to stave off the aging, it also treats them with kindness and sympathy and makes you care about their relationship. The cast are all in fine form, though Seyfried probably has less to work with compared with others. And while the movie sometimes makes you wince, its sharp observational humour is breezy and fun.