I have to admit that while I had saved Noah Baumbach’s 2014 “people confronting middle age” comedy to my Kanopy watchlist a while ago, I kept skipping it in favor of other movies (mostly crappy horror movies and rockumentaries). I’d tried watching his film Kicking and Screaming sometime back in the Nineties, but never got through it. I chalk that up to not really being able to relate to post-college stress disorder (since I was still in college at the time), so I might revisit it at some point. My reluctance to watch this probably has to do with my fear that I would relate too much to While We’re Young‘s main characters. After all, I’m 43, the same age as Ben Stiller’s Josh and probably look as old as Stiller does in real life, so I don’t know how much I want to see of that reflection.
The premise of this one is that Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a New York City couple who are childless and thrown into midlife crisis complications when their friends Marina and Fletcher (Maria Dizzia and Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz) have a baby followed by their meeting twentysomething couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). The novelty of a friendship with the younger couple is shiny and attractive, and this quickly leads to Josh and Cornelia blowing off their older friends for all sorts of cool new Millennial things with the new ones.
Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. Jamie is a budding documentary filmmaker and met Josh because he and Darby sat in on Josh’s documentary filmmaking class. Jamie seems to be a huge fan of Josh’s one film, which is an obscure piece that can only be obtained by finding a VHS copy on eBay. Jamie’s “documentary” career is really him posting random crap to Facebook and YouTube, but Josh seems to be eager to mentor him, especially because he also feels cool for once (and even starts emulating his protege). And then we start to see that perhaps Jamie’s kind of … well, full of shit?
I was kind of wondering when we would start getting the Generation X versions of movies like City Slickers, which was all about Boomers facing the supposed hellscape of middle age by going on a dude ranch vacation. Here, we have a premise that proves to be at least a little interesting–Stiller and Watts’ characters are already the cool fortysomethings, having avoided the eventual fleeing of Manhattan for the boring confines of the suburbs and have made something for themselves in an arts/humanities field. Okay, Josh is still working on a follow-up film to his original documentary and has been doing so for ten years (which gives us a funny bit where we look at several pieces of the film and his ever-changing facial hair) while also teaching; Cordelia, on the other hand, manages the career of her documentary film-legend father (played by Charles Grodin). Anyone who had resigned themselves to paying an HOA fee would be envious of these two, just as they’re envious of Jamie and Darby.
Still, the way that Baumbach gets across the mundanity of life as well as the way that career and life obligations get in the way of carefreeness is shown very well through little moments that pepper the film, and both Josh and Cornelia get swept up in Jamie and Darby’s orbit. Stiller brings his usual anxiousness to the role and while Josh can get very irritating (especially in the third act of the film), he’s a painfully real character. Watts is also very good, even though I think Cornelia could have been more fully written, as could have Darby–the pitfalls of having a male auteur write female characters. Driver is a charming asshole in his role as Jamie (and this is about a year before he first appeared as Kylo Ren), and seeing him here makes me curious about what I’ve heard about his performance in Marriage Story.
This is one of those niche independent flicks that are fun to indulge in every once in a while, especially if you spent the better part of the Nineties randomly renting them from the video store. I mean, unless you’re someone who can live in that world. Since my aesthetic seems to be more suburban (both literally and figuratively), I’m not one who can. But this was very worth my time.
Rent or Skip?
Give it a try. Rent.