While We're Young

Posted by Joel Copling on April 17, 2015

"While We're Young" is empathetic about abrasive characters, and what a gift that is. These are flawed individuals, a quartet of two couples--one of whom is made up of people stuck in a middle-aged rut of inactivity, the other a pair of millennials that lure the older couple into their world of more refined taste. It's an interesting dichotomy--and a twist on the same--with which writer/director Noah Baumbach is working. Usually, in this kind of comedy, we see an older character mentoring a younger one into his ways of not even checking his iPhone or going on the Internet, but here it is the younger couple who are the mentors to their elders.

Not that Josh (Ben Stiller) or Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is that old; it's just that they're edging toward the process of being set in their ways in a manner consisting with aging of the fundamental sense. When the younger couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), enter their lives, the whole formula is screwed up. They've tried for ages to have kids, but her body disagrees, resulting in multiple miscarriages. The fact that their friend Fletcher (Adam Horovitz) has just had a child with his wife certainly doesn't help, and they all drift apart when the prospect of hallucinatory parties and beachside hangouts with the twentysomethings sounds more appealing at the moment.

That's when the battles of wit begin. Josh is a veteran documentarian and compulsive perfectionist who needs every scene to work perfectly; his latest documentary--which, from the brief glimpses at long-running interviews and knowledge late in the film of its current six-hour length, is a dreadfully boring one--is eight years in the making, though he believes he is "honing in" on it. Cornelia is producer of her own father Leslie's (a welcome Charles Grodin) documentaries, and Leslie's learned advice to Josh falls on deaf ears. Jamie is an avid admirer of Josh's laidback style of documentary and wants the man to join in on a project that would turn the Facebook experience on its ear (Instead of finding old classmates and communicating with them through the Internet, he'll befriend them on the social networking site, then track them down in real life to interview them).

Jamie's real intention unfolds during a third act that is biting in its honesty about the character (Driver is a revelation here at playing his character's good and bad traits with many of the same notes) but suffers, only slightly, from relegating Darby's character to a plot device (Seyfried is solid in her portrayal of Darby's increasing annoyance toward Jamie until the shoe drops and she becomes a way for the narrative to move into the third act). Stiller is particularly strong at conveying Josh's personality as one that grows weary of other people's nonsense (There is a particularly humorous scene in which he approaches an investor who has no concept of Josh's primary intent with his newest documentary), and Watts is luminous as Cornelia, a woman who is such a match to her husband that it feels entirely real (Her and Stiller's chemistry is palpable on deeper levels than the superficial one of seeming like movie actors who might be kind of nice to each other).

It's the actors' movie to lose, and Baumbach's perceptiveness stretches to the punchy, literate dialogue in which those actors engage. These are people who talk and talk some more and keep talking--about popular culture of both generations (Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," made famous by 1976's "Rocky" and its sequels, was once simply considered bad, as Josh muses, but Jamie wasn't around to witness this and has only a newer pair of ears with which to hear the tune), about what it means to be a documentarian (Josh's sense of ethics in documenting fact is mirrored by a speech from Leslie late in the film that gets to the heart of discovering truth in the same), and about what it means to age (Josh still feels like a kid, except for the arthritis that, unbeknownst to him until a doctor visit, has spread through his knee and eyesight that has started to strain). "While We're Young" is a small but perceptive gem.

Film Information

Ben Stiller (Josh), Naomi Watts (Cornelia), Adam Driver (Jamie), Amanda Seyfried (Darby), Charles Grodin (Leslie Breitbart), Adam Horovitz (Fletcher).

Directed and written by Noah Baumbach.

Rated R (language).

97 minutes.

Released in select cities on March 27, 2015.