Monday, 4 May 2015

While We're Young

As the masses flocked in to see Ultron, Kathy and I slipped quietly into an almost empty theatre featuring that rare thing: an intelligent comedy drama. That's the age we live in (sigh).

Noah Baumbach, the writer/director behind Greenberg and Frances Ha, has given us another wise, witty and thought-provoking satirical drama for adults. This time it’s about a forty-something couple (Josh and Cornelia, played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) whose lives intersect with a twenty-something couple (Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), with both positive and negative results.

Josh is a documentary filmmaker who’s been working on his latest film for eight years and Cornelia is bored. When Jamie and Darby show up at a class Josh is teaching, the two couples start a unique friendship that provides all kinds of social commentary on the age we live in (e.g. exposing the problems and deceits of both the young and the middle-aged as they search for an authentic lifestyle). But when Jamie begins filming his own documentary, Josh becomes jealous and then discovers that not everything going on around him is at it seems.

While We’re Young has some great dialogue (and some silly dialogue) and offers a lot to think about on subjects like our current smartphone culture. The documentaries in the background provide some additional food for thought. I was surprised by how much of the film was about making documentaries, but, as someone who watches a lot of documentaries, this only enhanced my enjoyment of the film.

Watts is always great, and Driver and Seyfried were well-cast, but I’m not so sure about Stiller. Either the casting was off or his performance wasn’t as good as the others (a little over the top, as usual for Stiller?). Either way, I had occasional trouble finding him believable, especially near the end of the film. There were a couple of scenes in particular that didn’t work for me at all, like the overly-long one involving a Peruvian root juice. Nevertheless, this satire is still a major step up from most comedy dramas these days, so I’m giving While We’re Young ***+. My mug is up.


  1. I'd like to trust you - except for the one line where you wrote, referring to Greenberg, "another wise, witty..." I so rarely stop watching a movie part way through but Greenberg was one. Tell me whether or not this is much better than that or I'll go see Avengers instead.

  2. If I am not mistaken, not only is Greenberg on that list, but also Baumbach's earlier film, The Squid and the Whale. I gave both of those films ***+, but clearly you find both of them offensive in some way. I think I can understand why: Characters are unsympathetic; the humour can be very dark; Baumbach is a quirky writer. Greenberg also stars Stiller, which may be a problem, though Squid stars Jeff Daniels, who is brilliant in that film. I do think While We're Young is Baumbach's best film to date, but my advice to you would be to skip both this film AND the Avengers.

  3. You are quite right - apparently at least I'm consistent. If he also wrote Ghost World then that would just about take care of my whole list. It's not so much that they're offensive as like looking through lenses that make the whole world seem ugly. So you're also right about the unsympathetic characters. And it seems to represent the writer's point of view and so it's all utterly pointless to watch. I seem to recall the odd bit of wit, but I didn't notice any wisdom.

  4. Yes, I think you're absolutely right that all of Baumbach's films represent his somewhat bleak point of view, based no doubt on his own life. His characters are certainly all very flawed. Since I generally don't appreciate films in which the characters are all unsympathetic (and to some extent, While We're Young also suffers from this), there must be something in Baumbach's films that hints at hope (probably need to watch the entire film for that) and lifts the bleakness enough for me to connect. I am reminded of my favourite Mike Leigh film (All or Nothing) thats shares similar characteristics.