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While We’re Young (2015)
Written & Directed by Noam Baumbach
Josh is documentary filmmaker stuck on the same project for the last ten years. His wife, Cornelia, is a producer whom he won’t work with, and his father in law is a famous documentarian whom he also won’t work with. During a lecture at a college where Josh works, he meets Jamie and Darby, a young couple who are full of the sense of life he is missing. Josh and Cornelia become fast friends with the couple and learn Jamie is also a filmmaker seeking out an excellent topic for his own documentary. Josh finally breaks his taboo of never collaborating and decides to help Jamie out with a Facebook-centered doc idea he has. As the two couples become more closely intertwined more tension bubbles to the surface until Josh’s personal life begins to crumble around himself.
I have never been a big fan of Noah Baumbach. I don’t like his previous films The Squid and The Whale and Greenberg, but maybe they are worth a revisit. His writing work has been more of a mixed bag with me, particularly his collaborations with Wes Anderson. I love The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but The Life Aquatic has always felt like one of Anderson’s less impressive works. I say all this to emphasize how my expectations were neutral to low going into While We’re Young. But, I have to say I really loved this movie, much to my surprise.
In recent years Ben Stiller has cornered the market on mid-life crisis roles, and so I was expecting to get the same old tired schtick. Stiller is not this film’s strongest element, but he manages to play the character believably and doesn’t let Josh off the hook. The film does veer into farce in the third act when Josh confronts Jamie at a large gala event, and some of the joke beats are tonally off from the rest of the film. The main attraction in the picture is Adam Driver who continues to impress and surprise me with his range. After seeing him on HBO’s Girls, I wrote him off as a one-note bore, but since then he has managed to prove me wrong. His portrayal of Jamie, an always calm and collected narcissist is perfection because the audience, like Josh, can’t help but be pulled into the fun, youthful, and open life that this character presents. He is very bohemian and devoted to his art and on the surface presents as the type of person people in their late thirties and on wistfully look back and yearn to be.
The film is not perfect though. The pacing is a bit off, and things start to meander about halfway. If the movie had kept focused as an introspective piece about the period somewhere between your youthful twenties and your middle age, then we might have had something tremendous. Instead, there is a plot twist in the second act that feels entirely out of place with the tone of the film. Suddenly, we shift from being very character-centered to becoming plot focused and, like I said before, it veers into farce. There is a clear establishment of one character as the protagonist and the other as the antagonist which doesn’t feel like this should be here.
The movie also underutilized its female leads, Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried. This is most definitely a film about Ben Stiller’s Josh but Watts’ Cordelia always feels secondary, and I would have like to have spent some time exploring her life outside the home. The only scenes she appears in are in the couple’s apartment and when they are on some excursion with Jamie and Darby. Amanda Seyfried, who is a very talented actress, is so inconsequential to the film I don’t know why they didn’t just cast someone less established. Her one significant contribution to the story comes from that strange second act plot twist where she is merely a convenient delivery device for some plot exposition.
While We’re Young is still a delightful movie that works as a good, smart comedy. It is by far the most enjoyable Noah Baumbach film I’ve watched and actually has me interested in re-examining his older work and anticipating what is to come.