While We’re Young
(M) Starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver
The poignant and empathetic core of writer-director Noah Baumbach’s latest work, While We’re Young, is the inevitable and terrifying reality that we all must, unfortunately, grow old. Baumbach has picked a perfect story to tell because, literally, growing old will happen to all of us (no matter how much you really don’t want it to). While this also can be a sensitive subject for some, Baumbach has injected a healthy dose of humour thanks to the castings of Ben Stiller (Josh) and Naomi Watts (Cornelia). Together, they are subtle and enjoyable rather than overpowering (unlike most films starring Stiller).
Josh is a middle-aged filmmaker and lecturer. He has spent the best part of the past 10 years working on a six-and-a-half-hour-long documentary that he still can’t edit down to an actual watchable film. Meanwhile, his wife Cornelia is the daughter of world-reclaimed documentarian, Leslie (Charles Grodin). She’s also a successful producer, though she has never worked with her husband. Josh and Cornelia are a fairly normal middle-aged married couple with realistic problems – they are stuck in a “rut” between the pressures of starting a family while clinging to their carefree younger years.
Into their lives wander Darby (Amanda Seyfried) and Jamie (Adam Driver), who is a fellow film-maker and diehard fan of Josh’s documentaries. The 20-something couple are the epitome of cool — think vinyl collections, penny-farthing bicycles and vintage typewriters. Like the pin-up couple for hipsters everywhere, Jamie and Darby seem to represent everything Josh and Cornelia once had together (or at times, wished they had). As Cornelia comments with admiration: “It’s like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but they make it look so great.”
The anxiety of being out of touch, fear of growing old and the reluctance to bend to social pressure about moving forward with life are all perpetual themes in Baumbach’s films (including Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg and Frances Ha). He has stuck to what he knows best, and it has paid off tenfold. Baumbach has created the perfect generational gap between the two sets of couples, making the awkward divide between them both comical and oh-so realistic. Contrasting Seyfried and Driver with Watts and Stiller is humorous in itself, as the latter represent the definition of “wannabe cool parentals” versus the “Generation Y cool kids that know trying to be cool is totally uncool”.
While We’re Young also allows us to see a totally new side of Watts. Next to Stiller (who has the awkward “dad” figure notched in his belt many times over), Watts lends herself to the comedy theme very naturally (in Watts’ future films, I hope to see more of her awkward hip-hop dancing).
Baumbach has gone thoughtfully about his themes, being careful to not make the contrast of generation and values too cliché. At times you can see that Jamie and Darby are ultimately a collection of every stereotype you can think of to do with their generation. These stereotypical representations, though, are pared back by the fact that their depiction is really just a reflection of what Josh and Cornelia think of the pair themselves. Baumbach’s dramatic comedy totally works this way and, in fact, makes you feel like it will all be okay whenever you reach the point where you actually have to grow up (no matter how much you really don’t want to).
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
- What does the Bible say about jealousy? (James 3:14-16)
- What does the Bible say about growing old? (Proverbs 16:31)
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