Sunday, August 02, 2015

While We're Young (2014) ***1/2

Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentary filmmaker with a great debut who has now spent the last 10 years working on a second documentary that is going nowhere. He and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a couple of mostly happy New Yorkers in their mid-forties. They have some regrets about being childless, but as they watch their friends deal with a new baby, they congratulate themselves on how free they still are, although truth be told, they live a pretty routine life.

Then Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) enter their lives. Josh meets the young couple while giving a lecture on film-making. Jamie is an aspiring documentarian and a fan of Josh's one film. Jamie and Darby are classic Hipsters, modern-day Bohemians who live with a hot roommate and a chicken, collect vinyl records, and hike the empty subway tracks at night. Everything about them seems to scream freedom and spontaneity, and their life is very seductive to Josh and Cornelia. As the friendship progresses, Josh starts to help Jamie with his own documentary. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that much of Jamie's charm is a facade, and he is all about using Josh's connections to further his own career.

Despite a strong performance from Adam Driver, the Jamie storyline ends up being a weak point in “While We're Young.” I did like how it deconstructs the way every generation has to try to re-invent life but mostly ends up doing all the things they despised their elders for doing. Jamie tells Josh, “Hey man, success is YOUR thing.”, but Jamie ends up being willing to do just about anything to achieve success. In a poignant summation of this storyline, Darby says, “Jamie and I would always wonder about how we would grow old. It turns out we'll do it just like everybody else.” This plot-line is uneven, however, and writer/director Noah Baumbach does not wrap it up very well.

The much stronger theme in this film is about what it's like to be in your mid-forties. By definition, that is “middle-aged,” but that term has connotations of over-and-done-ness that clearly do not apply to Josh and Cornelia. They are both good-looking and healthy. Sure, they get a few more aches and pains than they once did, but the life-style ossification they suffer is based purely on perception. Josh says, “I'm 44 years old, and there are things I will never do, things I will never have. What's the opposite of 'The world is my oyster?'” While their friendship with Jamie and Darby ends up being a disappointment, it helps break loose their rusty parts and shows them they can still start something new. The title, “While We're Young” ends up being very appropriate, as their flirtation with younger people helps Josh and Cornelia see that they still have a lot of life left in them.

3.5 stars out of 5

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