Noah Baumbach’s latest film is almost great.
Baumbach has had an interesting career. He typically falls into the standard indie writer/director category, creating fairly offbeat films, often featuring some of the same actors across his different works. However, beyond these films, such as The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg, he has also collaborated several times with fellow indie darling Wes Anderson, and has even written one of the hugely successful animated Madagascar films. And now he’s back with his latest film, While We’re Young, that, given it’s larger number of stars and wider release, seems to be slowly pushing into a more mainstream genre.
While We’re Young tells the story of Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a documentary filmmaker and documentary producer respectively. They come to a crossroads in their lives, having hit middle age and accepting that their careers will be their legacy, even as their friends begin to have kids, and encourage Josh and Cornelia to do the same. All of this changes when Josh meets Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, a young and energetic couple. Immediately inspired by Jamie and Darby’s hands-on approach to everything they touch, Josh quickly becomes a mentor to Jamie’s fledgling documentary career, whilst Cornelia invests time with the free-wheeling Darby. And because this is a movie, this new relationship brings out some revelations and issues for all.
If you’ve seen any of Baumbach’s previous films, you’ll know what you’re in for, for the most part. There aren’t really many surprises along the way, but the writing is very sharp, with dialogue that does it’s best to make a fairly accurate and smart poke towards hipsters, growing old, and the need for fame found in today’s “kids”.
And if you’ve seen any of Ben Stiller’s previous films, you’ll unfortunately also know what you’re in for. While most of the film is actually pretty great, the final act of the film takes a dive. Without giving too much away, Ben Stiller’s character suddenly has the world against him, even in some pretty illogical ways. This leads to his typical overacting, with half of his dialogue just frantic mumbles, and him managing to make bad situations even worse. It’s an sad cop-out not typically seen by Baumbach, and pretty disappointing to see. It’s not his first time working with Stiller, so maybe he’s rubbed off a bit too much on him.
This final piece of the film is a shame because prior to that, I really dug While We’re Young. All of the actors deliver great performances – Adam Driver has quickly grown to be one of my favorite actors with his perfectly subtle methods of delivering comedy. Watching Stiller and Watts embrace a younger generation leads to some really funny sequences and scenarios. Charles Grodin also pops up as a supporting role, and I honestly thought he was dead, so it was fun for him to have some screen time.
Despite it’s issues, While We’re Young manages to be a mostly enjoyable ride. At just over 90 minutes it’s not a large time commitment, and even if the end drags, it’s still worth a watch for some of the social commentary regarding generational gaps, and not dead Grodin.