For his sixth feature as writer-director, Noah Baumbach continues a newly prolific streak with While We’re Young (2014), which furthers his approach to infusing his cinema with his own thoughts, feelings and verdicts on specific areas of contemporary culture. Where his previous film, the monochrome crowd-pleaser Frances Ha (2012), saw him breaking from the existential miserablism that has peppered his films thus far, this sees Baumbach taking an honest look at what it’s like to grow old in a world of retro hipsterism, to mostly successful results. In his best role since his first collaboration with the director – the brilliantly acerbic Greenberg (2010) – Ben Stiller plays documentary filmmaker Josh.
Josh lives a happy life with his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) in uptown New York. Surrounded by a group of friends who have begun settling down and starting families of their own, the couple’s growing sense of displacement in an increasingly youth-oriented modern society sees them seeking drastic alterations to their rut-like lives. Enter Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, a free-spirited mid-twenties couple entrenched in the trendy Brooklyn arts scene. An aspiring documentarian and maker of organic artisan ice-cream respectively, the couple live a sprightly existence governed by spontaneity, where they are ready to drop everything in pursuit of their next passion.
After a supposedly chance meeting, Josh and Cornelia become fascinated with their new, untethered buddies, though in a desperate attempt to rekindle their days of youthful excitement, they discover more about themselves than they initially thought. Clearly influenced by the work of Woody Allen, from the choice of font to the central character’s roots in documentary filmmaking and his inability to finish his second, long-gestating project (see Crimes and Misdemeanours), While We’re Young is Baumbach at his most gently rancorous, however humorous the film consistently is. Clearly denouncing the millennial generation and its various falsities and fraudulence, the director sculpts a timely culture shock narrative that pits upper-class yuppies with their up-and-coming counterparts, coasting along on the simple ensuing contrasts between the two. As fun as this is, the predominant plot strand – the gradual bromance between Josh and Jamie (who annoyingly nicknames his supposed hero as “Joshy”, complete with soft ‘J’), gives way to a loopy off-kilter third act, where the machinations of Jamie’s true intentions overrule the plot.
The film unwinds in response as it settles for a convoluted over-egging of what the director is trying to say about the untrustworthiness of the iPhone generation. Moreover, the central male relationship, as interesting as it is, sidelines Watts and especially Seyfried, with everyone eventually just pivoting around Josh and his out-of-touch foibles. With his next film – a third collaboration with muse and off-screen partner Greta Gerwig, Mistress America (2015) – packed and ready to go, Baumbach has appeared to find a new lease of filmmaking life, though he would do well to not make each ensuing project as half-hearted and dashed off as While We’re Young ultimately and unfortunately is.
Ed Frost | @Frost_Ed