Overview: A middle-aged couple is forced to reassess what they find important in life when they befriend a hipster couple half their age. 2014; A24 Films; Rated R; 97 minutes.
Doing Something: Noah Baumbach has built a good portion of his career around the relationships of unhappy people who do nothing except wander aimlessly in search of (or in avoidance of) direction. But many aspects of this self-serious, occasionally insincere distillation of ennui have grown tiresome due to the often repetitive nature of indie-dramedies. While We’re Young offers a much needed change of pace for Baumbach. His latest film has more going on in terms of story and theme, and is ultimately far looser, brighter, and less forcibly scripted in its approach to dialogue. While it may not have the same playful artfulness of Frances Ha, While We’re Young is just as emotionally genuine and certainly more humorous.
“Youth is Wasted on the…”: Struggling documentary filmmaker Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia’s (Naomi Watts) sudden whirlwind relationship with 25-year-old married couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) — who are making a documentary of their own — is structured in the form of a traditional romantic comedy. But every aspect from the meet-cute to the inevitable break-up scene has something to say about how age effects desires for career and family. The film is innately concerned with finding the truth in ambition, relationships, and filmmaking. The result is meta at times and sometimes heavy-handed, but in its best moments it is a poignant and bittersweet search for sincerity.
As one would expect, many of the films jokes come from the situational comedy of an older couple hanging out with young hipsters. While the scenes of hip-hop dance classes and purging rituals are really quite funny, the film sometimes slips into the kind of slapstick humor than seems far more in line with Stiller’s older films than the tone originally established in this one. Despite these incongruous moments, Stiller and Watts always manage to find the emotional core. Seyfried is disappointingly underused, though she grabs your attention in every scene she’s in. But it’s Adam Driver, with his untraditional looks and oddly over-thought body language, who delivers an exceptional performance of a complicated character who leaves the viewer with more than a few things to think about when it comes to the nature of honesty in film and in life.
Culture Seal: Ironically, Baumbach uses a lot of moments in this film to take jabs at the hypocrisy, pretension, and false ownership of hipster culture, a culture that owes a lot to Baumbach’s films. Despite these jabs, Bumbauch is still very much their director, and one hermetically sealed within the culture and problems of self-interested white people. One of the major points of contention I have with his filmography, and this film in particular, is the complete lack of minority characters. For a film set in New York, that uses black culture and disenfranchisement for a number of its jokes and the documentary within the film, the lack of representation of any racial minorities feels problematic and worth consideration. If he truly is interested in capturing widely accurate depictions of human relationships, Baumbach could certainly benefit from becoming interested in more than just one group of people.
Overall: While it’s decidedly different from his previous films and occasionally loses its realism in character actions in order to create realism in thematic points, While We’re Young is often laugh-out-loud funny and showcases a maturation in Noah Baumbach’s approach.