wed 24/04/2024

While We're Young | reviews, news & interviews

While We're Young

While We're Young

Noah Baumbach examines the age of anxiety - and the anxiety that comes with age

Generation gap: Adam Driver and Ben Stiller in `While We're Young'

"He's not evil, he's just young," we hear in passing in Noah Baumbach's wickedly funny film about the growing pains that affect us at every stage of life. That's to say that by any objective standard, the 40-something Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) aren't especially old, but they inhabit an entirely different sphere from Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), the deeply hip – and younger – New York couple who soon take over their lives. 

Will youth triumph over the seasoning of age, or will experience trump innocence? Such time-honoured questions are folded into a cunning script, also by Baumbach, that complicates any ready assumptions we may be quick to make. Not for nothing, for instance, is the Ibsen play The Master Builder invoked at the start. The Nordic master knew a thing or two about the irresistible allure that comes with the fresh-faced and the new, alongside the gamesmanship that can take place when one generation allows itself to exist in thrall to the other.

That's largely what happens here, once Josh and Cornelia fall under the sway of the 25-year-old Jamie and Darby, as you would, too, if you had a young acolyte speaking worshipfully of your work, which is how Josh and Jamie are brought into one another's orbit. A documentary filmmaker embarked upon an epic project that he seems destined never to finish, Josh nonetheless is initially regarded as a god by Jamie (Driver, pictured above right), a Brooklyn dude with artistic aspirations all his own, whose fawning behaviour turns out to have little to do with flattery. 

It helps that Jamie and Darby make the older duo feel springlike again, whether in the form of exercise or encounter groups that act as an antidote to the ageing process that lies in wait (Josh, tellingly, is an arthritis-suffer already) or because the younger pair appear at least to be free from that deep-gnawing angst that has its own crippling effect on the psyche. 

Josh and Cornelia, for instance, have never wanted kids and are made to feel vaguely guilty by the tykes and toddlers springing into being all around them. How refreshing, then, to find in Jamie and Darby a couple whose interests run towards albums on vinyl and artisanal ice cream and not towards reproduction. The tattooed Jamie even confesses to being "pathologically happy", which itself represents a challenge of sorts to the anxious Josh, whose long-delayed opus has come to represent an aesthetic mountain that may never be climbed. (At six-and-a-half hours, the venture feels "seven hours too long", at least in the droll assessment of Cornelia's peppery father Leslie, himself a celebrated documentary filmmaker who is beautifully played in a welcome return to the screen by veteran actor Charles Grodin.) 

At times Baumbach can't quite differentiate between commenting on a cultural stereotype and indulging it, and the scene that finds the leads vomiting into buckets in the cause of self-cleansing is sillier than it is smart. That said, Stiller furthers the partnership forged with Baumbach on the rather more sustainedly accomplished 2010 film Greenberg, and the actor long ago raised discomfiture to a fine art that has the effect here of somewhat sidelining Watts – just as Josh does Cornelia (Stiller and Watts pictured above right). It may be a while since you've found people speaking on screen about "doing bad shit", but While We're Young takes discussion of right and wrong, good and bad, to a realm well beyond snap judgment. Age doesn't bring maturity in Baumbach's film, but it does mean, on the hallucinogenic front, at least, that you can tell when you are being had. 

Overleaf: watch the trailer for While We're Young




The scene that finds the leads vomiting into buckets is sillier than it is smart


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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