While We're Young
The writer-director of Frances Ha is back with another lesson about growing up in your 20s, 30s and 40s.
If there’s one thing the movies of Noah Baumbach tell us — including the college exploits of Kicking and Screaming, the teenage unhappiness of The Squid and the Whale and the midlife crisis of Greenberg — it’s this: growing up doesn’t come easily. Sure, we all get older as the days, months and years pass, but that doesn’t mean we feel our age.
While We're Young lives and breathes this sentiment, and its characters as well. “For the first time in my life, I've stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult,” says documentarian Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller) to his producer wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), to which she replies, "you feel that way too?" It's an easy way of expressing the feature's theme in dialogue — a little too easy, in fact — but it rings true. They're trapped by expectations they can't fulfil and ambitions they haven’t achieved, and they're not ready for that realisation.
Two events start Josh and Cornelia thinking that maybe their mid-forties life isn't what they think it is. First, friends their own age (Maria Dizzia and the Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz) have a baby and tell them constantly that they should do the same. Then they meet wannabe filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried), twenty-somethings they can nostalgically see decades-earlier versions of themselves in.
Cue a whole heap of generational contrasts, of the young-folks-like-retro-trinkets versus older-people-prefer-technological-gadgets variety. Again, it's simple shorthand for a divide that looks obvious, but the film isn't just trying to show how things are different. Focused on a couple who don't feel in synch with their age group yet soon learn that they don't really fit in with younger friends and trends either, While We're Young is trying to understand why.
That's a big challenge for a 97-minute comedy; however, it is one that the ever-perceptive Baumbach accepts. As he did with the delightful Frances Ha before this, the writer/director homes in on details so specific, they might as well be ripped from many of the audience's lives. And if his last film was his attempt at combining such wry observations with a French New Wave coming-of-age tale, this is him revelling in Woody Allen, comedy-of-manners territory.
Though a Bowie song is again in the mix, While We're Young doesn't quite bounce along with the same zest as its predecessor, but it does roll with the punches of a story that morphs into a contemplation of authenticity. Thankfully, the film's bright frames boast that in spades, as it juxtaposes both sides of the age divide but, crucially, never judges. Everyone — Josh, Cornelia, Jamie and Darby alike — just wants to reconcile their dreams with their reality.
Performance-wise, the good stuff keeps on coming, gifting Watts her best work in years, letting Stiller show a more chilled version of his Greenberg persona and playing with Driver's natural charm. That said, if there's one thing that doesn't sit right in the whole movie and its musings on getting older, it's one piece of casting. Seriously, who wouldn't want to hang out with Ad-Rock, baby or not, at any age?
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