A quick summation of While We’re Young would be to say that it is the indie arthouse equivalent of last summer’s comedy Neighbors. An older couple having trouble coping with their age becomes acquainted with hip young people, and comedy ensues as the old try to be hip and relatable as they once thought they were. However, while Neighbors was just a straight-up comedy without much in the way of subtext (which was totally fine for what it was trying to be), While We’re Young attempts to take things to a deeper level, commenting not only on the aged recapture of youth, but also youth’s look to the past for its sense of meaning.
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a struggling documentarian and his wife living in New York City, struggling to relate with their best friends who have just had a baby. Enter Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfield), a couple of hipster twenty-five year olds who sit in on Josh’s continuing education film class to essentially stalk him as a form of idol worship because Jamie is a wannabe documentarian himself. The two couples soon become friends, the older two marveling at how the younger generation seems to be all about cooperation, sharing, and making art, while the younger two consistently reinforce Josh and Cornelia’s egos.
The truly interesting thing about these interactions is that the admiration goes both ways, with the older couple unable to get over how much the hipsters are into vinyl and VHS tapes, and the younger couple seemingly unable to grasp their elders’ constant grip in the clutches of modern technology. There is commentary on how the old wish they were young, but also in how the young only wish to emulate the old, and the dynamics are interesting to watch unfold, particularly as this begins to produce tension across the generational divide and ideas of authorship and creative freedom begin to collide.
However, this is also where the film begins to go a little off track. It still retains the intergenerational theme throughout, but it begins to form a treatise on the modern state of documentary filmmaking. While that is interesting in its own right, it does seem to distract from the film’s main point, at least as it had so far been established. Writer/director Noah Baumbach is generally known for taking his films to weird and dark places (just watch the adolescent masturbation scene from The Squid and the Whale to get a sense of what I’m talking about), but here it seems like he’s restrained himself from going as far down the rabbit hole as he otherwise could have. That doesn’t make this a bad film, but it feels somewhat neutered in favor of more traditional happy endings and fully realized conclusions.
Still, While We’re Young is a fantastic film with some great performances, funny setpieces (including an ill-advised drug escapade), and some overall great commentary on intergenerational relations. Check this one out if you’re in the mood for something a little strange.
Is it just me, or does Ben Stiller seem to primarily be on his A-game when he isn’t directing? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.