While We’re Young

Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Adam Horowitz

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach


Growing old is strange. It can creep up on you before you realise it and, when you do, you start to wonder where all the years went. It is often perplexing, difficult, and even scary once you realise that you’re not as young as you once were. In While We’re Young we are presented with a couple who have suddenly become aware of this. Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a middle-aged couple who have lost their youth. Josh, a documentary filmmaker who has been stuck on a project for the past ten years, has lost the spark, the drive, and the fervour that he had possessed as a young man. Cornelia is an aging housewife who has lost her energy, her spontaneity, and her thirst for adventure. The two of them live a quiet, settled, comfortable life and have convinced themselves that it is the life that they want. However, beneath their complacency, there is a clear sense of unfulfillment. Both of these characters have deep regrets, unrealised potential and quashed dreams that they keep hidden from those around them, from each other, and perhaps even from themselves. They have resigned themselves to a life of apathy.

However everything changes when Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver), an aspiring documentarian in his mid-twenties who emulates Josh and his work. Jamie and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) are everything that Josh and Cornelia are not. They are young, energetic, impulsive, idealistic, carefree and fun. They live in the moment and every day is an adventure for them. The two of them live an unconventional (hipster, for lack of a better word) lifestyle complete with old vinyl records, video cassettes, and home-made avocado flavoured ice cream. Josh and Cornelia become close friends with them as they set out on a journey to recapture their lost youth. The journey proves challenging as Josh and Cornelia struggle to keep up with their young friends, but they carry on regardless with all of the enthusiasm that they can muster. From a bike ride around the city to a hip-hop dance class to an ayahuasca ritual, the two couples partake in activities in which the generational gap between them makes for a funny and interesting viewing experience.

Ben Stiller shines out amongst the impressive cast as the proud but dissatisfied Josh. He resents himself for not living up to his potential as a filmmaker but is too stubborn to ask for any help on his decade-long project, least of all his father-in-law Leslie (Charles Grodin), a renowned and accomplished filmmaker who originally mentored Josh as a documentarian. He instead adamantly proceeds to figuratively bang his head continuously against a brick wall as he vainly tries to complete what he hopes will be his magnum opus. When Josh sets out to help Jamie with his own project, he both admires and envies him for his energy, his resolve, and his confidence. Jamie is a man who knows what he wants and how to get it, two qualities that Josh lacks. When Jamie’s project stumbles into something bigger and more substantial, Josh starts to resent him for his good fortune and the admiration he receives and becomes all the more bitter about his own vacillation and impotency. Stiller plays his character with enough empathy and humanity that Josh always remains both appealing and relatable throughout the film.

While We’re Young tackles many interesting and complex themes. It discusses what it means to grow old and to retain one’s youth. It is often said that you are only as young as you feel, and so this film tests the reality of that assertion. The film examines the gap that exists between the generations as the two couples spend their time together and learn from each other. Although they are younger, Jamie and Darby appear to be the wiser and more experienced of the two couples, in some respects at least, and seem to have their lives figured out. As they spend more time together, Josh and Cornelia start to wonder what it is they want out of life and whether or not they’ve been going about it the wrong way. The role of the documentary is also given a large focus as the film discusses what it means to tell real stories and, on a broader level, what it means to tell the truth.

The highlight of this film is Baumbach’s script. The dialogue has a real Woody Allen feel to it, in that the discussions held are intelligent without ever being pretentious. The humour is funny but stays grounded without ever veering into the silly or the ridiculous. The characters are authentic and are never boring. Baumbach tackles the depressing themes of getting old and losing one’s youth with such heart and wit that While We’re Young comes across as an enjoyable, bittersweet film.

★★★★

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