Released: 3rd April 2015
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts
Noah Baumbach has carved himself out something of a niche audience since his first movie The Squid and The Whale back in 2005. His hipster, intellectual characters are reminiscent of the early works of Woody Allen and his quirky narratives have seen comparisons drawn with frequent collaborator Wes Anderson. His work however has been marred and criticised by some for being too self conscious, his last work Frances Ha, whilst being enjoyable felt contrived and lacking in authenticity. So it comes as a great relief that it finally looks as though he has reached his potential with his latest movie, While We’re Young.
Josh and Cornelia, played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts respectively are a middled aged couple living in New York who have hit something of a bump in the road. They can’t have children and their relationship has lost the spark it once had- Josh is a documentarian who has been working on his latest film for the last 8 years and Cornelia is a film producer working with her father. Their lives are changed however when they befriend a hip young couple- Darby and Jamie, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. The couple are newly married and living the life that Josh and Cornelia want- they’re creative, spontaneous, happy and above all else young.
The two couples soon find themselves spending every spare moment together, Jamie is an inspiring documentary maker who seemingly worships the ground Adam walks on whilst Darcy and Cornelia are sharing their marital issues and attending hip hop classes together.
While We’re Young feels like a filmmaker finally maturing; Baumbach’s last work Frances Ha, for all its quirkiness and comic moments felt a little too light and meandering, with no real meat on its bones, While We’re Young is a richer, more thematically challenging work that satirises the nature of both being young and growing old. Jamie and Darby, for all their enthusiasm and self conscious collecting of cool, retro items fail to take each other seriously and are self absorbed, whilst Josh and Cornelia are rejecting each other and have lost sight of who they want to be and where they want to go. Whilst this may sound cliched Baumbach’s film is smarter than that, addressing the issues with witty observation and a whip smart script- for the first in his career the comparisons with Woody Allen feel justified.
Baumbach also manages to get great performances out of all four actors. Driver does his usual hipster kind of role but adds an air of moral ambiguity to his character that we have never seen from him before whilst Stiller and Watts give their best performances in quite some time, both providing multi layered and endearing portrayals of people wrestling with a mid life crisis.
The film does fall apart somewhat in it’s third and final act however as the plot starts to give way to contrivances and begins to test the audience’s patience, the film’s climactic scene especially feels a tad forced and lacks the emotional impact it wants to have. In its defence though the first two thirds of the movie are a pure delight and are the best work Baumbach has ever produced.
Witty and insightful While We’re Young feels like the film Baumbach has been desperately trying to make for the last 10 years. Like the characters in the movie the director finally appears to have matured and is dealing with adult issues rather than just prancing around with a group of quirky 20 somethings.