WHILE WE’RE YOUNG Review
Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Boasting a fantastically astute eye on the experience of aging midst the desperation for success, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG encompasses a thematically ambitious narrative that’s veiled by the appearance of a simplistic buddy dramedy. Noah Baumbach has a way to get the most out of his actors, and by taking full advantage of Adam Driver’s cocky charm and Ben Stiller’s naive, yet endearing, fatherly sensibility, he is able to draw comparisons between the lifestyles of the young and old, without ever condemning one or the other.
Ben Stiller plays Josh while Adam Driver plays Jamie
What’s instantly brilliant about Baumbach’s setup, is that to most viewers, the two worlds presented on screen both feel terrifyingly unlikable. Whether it’s the tormenting discomfort a mom of taking ones toddler to a children’s concert, or the incessant appropriation of other cultures for the pleasure of the current hipster generation, Baumbach presents these worlds with little to no bias, using Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as surrogates for his audience. Viewers that fit into one of these two walks of life will naturally have a harder time realizing the critique that Baumbach is offering. This unique stance on the subject makes for a film that only a niche crowd can relate to. In fact, Baumbach’s target audience share a common plight of hating the mainstream-hipster youth, as well as the equally ignorant elder generations. In a wonderfully simple sentence delivered by Naomi Watts, the audience is told that “It’s as if once you have a baby, you become a baby”, and thus the ideal alternative is staying young, but that’s tough when the young generation of today cannibalizes everything you, your parents, and your grandparents held dear.
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts dancing to hip hop
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts make for an empathetic couple because they don’t fit into the lifestyle of young parents or New York hipsters, although they are inclined to prefer the latter. As the two flip-flop between both of these oddly vapid sub-cultures, the audience begins to realize that Stiller and Watts don’t appreciate the community that Adam Driver invites them into because its more genuine, but because it serves as a more efficient getaway from Stiller’s professional failures. This is where WHILE WE’RE YOUNG ventures into its most ambitious thematic arc. As opposed to merely functioning as an analysis of the young and old, it also delivers a complex discussion on ignorance and wisdom, and how youth can often cloud one’s judgement when wanting to be a genuine artist. This concept of authenticity holds the film together as a narrative through-line, and thus prevents these two separate discussions from drifting apart, making for a surprisingly coherent narrative.
Whilst certainly an impressive accomplishment conceptually, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG stumbles from sloppy writing. Lacking the comedic heft that made FRANCES HA so entertaining, Baumbach’s 2014 outing feels like it could have benefited from a few more rewrites. Consequently, the film endures long stretches of being oddly unfunny, something that’s doubly disappointing when considering the caliber of the actors onscreen. Nevertheless, the film glides along smoothly thanks to a brisk pace and strong dramatic timing. Unlike FRANCES HA, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG doesn’t ever meander or feel like a series of vignettes, and every scene leads into the next with purpose, proving that Baumbach had his structure down pat, but his comedy needed a little more attention.
Delightful, heartbreaking, and charged with incredible thematic depth, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG’s viewers can be of all ages, as long as they feel like they don’t fit in with others their age. However, thanks to its lighthearted charm and universal visual appeal, Baumbach’s film is also a project that is likely to convert some viewers into understanding the critique that the film makes against hipsters, moms, dads and everything in between, because nobody is perfect, but everyone should try their hardest to be their best self.
This review originally appeared here.