While We’re Young is Noah Baumbach’s latest film since the impressive Frances Ha, which he directed and co-wrote. Working with Ben Stiller, who appeared in his 2010 film Greenberg, Baumbach adds Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Driver to complete the lead cast of this rom-com.
Essentially, this is about two different couples and the relationships they form. The first, Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts), are a married middle age couple who have ruled out the option of having a baby. The other is the younger, married couple, Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried), who are at the peak of their creative phase in life. When Jamie (deliberately) comes into contact with Josh after joining in his film lecture, Jamie convinces Josh to hang out with him and Darby and to bring Cornelia along. Jamie and Darby’s youth and exuberance charm Josh and Cornelia, whilst Jamie and Darby find guidance and inspiration in Josh and Cornelia. Soon enough, they become friends and the possibilities of joining forces on a film project awaits. But, jealously and the idea of authenticity raises its ugly head.
While We’re Young is a story that tells of characters forced to change their perspective, pushed to find some sort of happy or conclusive balance in the world they live in.
The film quotes Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder (1892) in the opening credits, soon drawing on themes from the play itself. This seems to confuse the narrative at first, but makes sense upon reflection. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re unfamiliar with the text; if anything, it gives you a nice little surprise in the narrative. But whether there is a point to using Ibsen as the backdrop or not, is the question. It appears like the film is interested in separating itself from any ol’ dramedy or independent film, alluding to itself as a narrative of substance.
When you consider Baumbach’s writing or films themselves, the use subtlety at its finest stands out. He could be described as a sort of Woody Allen through his witty dialogue and character exploration. Both directors naturally get to the core of their characters in a manner that is both cynical and complex.
Unfortunately, While We’re Young comes across as deliberate and unnatural, with too much hipster bashing. This does seem strange, given Baumbach’s films, along with his choices of characters, and music, are of the kind that viewers would associate with being “hipster”. When handled well, this is a clever way of critiquing these stereotypes. However, when characters scream bikes, tattoos, irony, organics and thrifting, it doesn’t bring anything new to the conversation. As is the case of Jamie and Darby, presented as the urban, anti conforming dwellers. It’s as if Baumbach had discovered the “hipster” for the first time, or has some personal grumbles with these identities. It was all too obvious, and perhaps too much.
Still, there are a few nice moments. In one scene, a clever montage contrasts the two couples through new and old technologies. We see Jamie and Darby as proud owners of a VHS player, cassette tapes and a typewriter, while Josh and Cornelia have the latest smartphones and tablets, these advances in technologies clearly making them less connected. Josh and Cornelia are depicted as the disconnected, while Jamie and Darby are the ones with the organic energy to aspire towards. Of course, this is debatable and, to the film’s credit, it’s later explored. When questions of authenticity are raised, the illusion is broken, a development handled very well.
While We’re Young is a character piece, one that carefully takes its time to explore each character’s true motivations and the differences – or lack thereof – within current generations. Unfortunately, the film’s attitude is much too obvious, making it hard to see the carefully constructed critique and nuances that usually come with Baumbach’s work.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10