Opening today at an indie art house near me:
(Dir. Noah Baumbach, 2015)
“We were just 25. I mean, we weren’t, but you know,” 44-year old Josh (Ben Stiller) says to his 43-year old wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) when she asks why he suddenly wants to hang out with a couple of 25-year olds.
In writer/director Noah Baumbach’s (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, FRANCES HA) eighth film, WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, these aging Brooklynites find themselves attracted to the hipster lifestyles of Jamie (Adam Driver from the HBO show Girls), and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). This is after it’s been well established that Josh and Cornelia’s decision not to have children alienates them from their new-parent friends Fletcher (Adam Horowitz aka Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys) and Marina (Maria Dizzia).
Josh, a documentary filmmaker of little renown, is initially approached by Jamie and Darby after a class Josh teaches on filmmaking for a continuing education program. Jamie, an aspiring documentarian himself, tells Josh he loves his work (he bought an obscure VHS copy of Josh’s only film on eBay), and before you know it, Jamie and Darby are schmoozing it up with Josh and Cornelia.
An amusing montage displays how the older couple depends on their modern devices (iPhones, iPods, laptops, etc,) while the young ones revel in the retro (vinyl, VHS, typewriters, etc.). We also see Josh shopping for vintage threads with Jamie, while Cornelia bonds with Darby, whose thing is making organic artisanal ice-cream, over a hip hop dance class.
Dining with Fletcher and Marina, Josh and Cornelia rave about their new friends. Cornelia describes Jamie and Darby’s apartment as being filled with “everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.” Josh enthusiastically adds: “you should see this guy’s record collection. It’s Jay-Z, it’s Thin Lizzy, it’s Mozart. His taste is democratic - it’s THE GOONIES and it’s CITIZEN KANE. They don't distinguish between high and low. It’s wonderful.”
Fletcher responds, “When did THE GOONIES become a good movie?” I myself have been wondering that for years.
Conflict comes when Jamie starts cozying up with Cornelia’s father, famous filmmaker Leslie Breitbart (the great, grumpy Charles Grodin), who used to mentor Josh. This makes Josh realize that his new young friend’s motivations may be questionable, as is the content of his project when it’s revealed that Jamie fudged the timeline and the Facebook angle that led to his documentary’s subject, a suicidal war veteran played by Brady Corbet.
Unfortunately this development comes off a bit contrived making the confrontational conclusion at Leslie’s memorial ceremony at Lincoln Center a bit clunky, but the overall gist of the observational humor, and drama, here is dead on.
In 2010’s GREENBURG, Baumbach and Stiller less successfully approached similar themes, but here they largely nail the unsettling feeling that fortysomething folks have coming to terms with the fact that, as Springsteen famously sang, “we ain’t so young anymore.”
Stiller, who is closer to 50 than his screen counterpart, has made a career of playing uptight characters challenged to break out of their shells, but his Josh may be the actor’s most fleshed out, and vulnerable performance. It beats the pants off of WALTER MITTY, that's for sure.
Co-stars Watts, Grodin, and Seyfried also shine, but Driver, building upon the artsy inclinations of his character on Girls, really stands out. His Jamie sharply captures the soullessness of a guy who’s spent his entire existence faking sincerity.
Such meddling millennials sure can make members of Generation X like me feel old, but Baumbach’s smart and dryly funny take on the situation in WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, helps to ease the blow.