While We're Young

Scott Wallace
16th Apr 2015

While We’re Young is the latest feature from director Noah Baumbach. Like his previous films, most notably The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha, it is a smart and funny piece of comedy-drama with a slightly subversive edge that often recalls prime Woody Allen. It is bigger and bolder than his previous films, which are the absolute epitome of American independent cinema in the 21st century, but it still has the director’s distinctive spark.

The film stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as Josh and Cornelia, a middle-aged couple who, when the film opens, are trying rather unsuccessfully to look after their friends’ baby. Without kids, Josh and Cornelia are the exception among their group of friends, and find themselves increasingly alienated until Josh is approached by young hipster couple Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver, best known for HBO’s Girls (and the aforementioned Frances Ha), and Amanda Seyfried. Josh is a struggling documentarian, and Jamie is a bright-eyed and enthusiastic disciple of the craft. The older couple find themselves growing revitalised by the younger couple’s sense of spirit and adventure.

The main cast are all superb. Ben Stiller is definitely playing to type, but it suits him and it works. Naomi Watts never gets enough credit for the vitality that she brings to each and every role she plays, just as she does here. Amanda Seyfried too - who has shown an aptitude for dramatic acting in HBO’s Big Love - shows a mature and unexpectedly strong side. Adam Driver also has a hugely engaging presence on-screen, and the actor navigates with gusto the contradictions and complicated motives of a character that is far more than he initially seems.

With the interplay between the two generations, the film smartly skewers the vintage- and retro-obsessed hipster culture of the younger characters by painting a keenly observed, but also slightly absurd portrait of them. The upper class yuppie set too, with their trendy gadgets constantly clicking away are not spared from the whip-smart, but subtle satire at play in this film. 

While We’re Young is something that cinema is always begging for - a genuinely original idea - so it wins huge points right away. There is a problem though in that Baumbach’s films are always highly referential, and this one is no exception, especially as so many of its characters are documentary filmmakers constantly spouting high-minded rhetoric. The film’s sense of humour can come across as a little exclusive or snobby, which may turn some viewers off.

But for the most part, While We’re Young is very enjoyable. It’s not uproariously funny, but the humorous moments come fast and often, even at the film’s emotional apex. The interplay between the characters is thought-provoking and engaging, as is the film’s slowly-building and very unpredictable structure. It offers no easy answers, but simply asks the audience to consider the way the world changes and some of us get either swept up or left behind. 

Perhaps it’s not a masterpiece, but While We’re Young is a surprisingly fun slice of comedy-drama from a rather underrated director. With an intelligent and original screenplay of the director’s usual high standard, and a cast at the absolute top of their game, the film’s few shortcomings can be easily ignored. 

While We’re Young is in cinemas now.