While We’re Young

while we're young
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried
Available on Blu-ray and DVD July 27th, 2015

by Richard Hamer

It takes some persistence to find the gold – and there is gold – in Noah Baumbach’s latest offering. Praised by critics on its cinematic release (the press-release that accompanied this is DVD adorned with enough five-stars as to be a little ‘showy’) yet initially so straightforward in its themes and message that it’s not immediately clear where the excitement is coming from.

The set-up is familiar: Josh and Cornelia Srebnick – played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts – are going through a mid-life crisis: While all around them their friends are starting families, they remain childless, their careers and personal lives stagnating, the magic gone. All this changes when they meet Jamie and Darby, an adventurous young couple that rush headlong through life with all the unplanned enthusiasm the Srebnick’s have lost. They become friends, and soon Josh and Cornelia find themselves trailing the younger couple around, doing as they do, casting aside their old friends in pursuit of a second youth.

And for much of the film, there really isn’t much more to it than that. It is funny, slickly delivered, but ultimately devoid of anything new to say on what is a well worn topic. A lot of early dialogue is too on the nose, too literal, with Josh pretty much telling Jamie “I feel so much younger when I’m around you. You remind me of how I used to be when I was young”.

If the staging is familiar, then it is at least helped by fine central performances. Both Stiller and Watts bring an easy charm to their roles, portraying a couple whose relationship – despite being increasingly weighed down by unspoken regrets they share – is essentially happy. They are far from shrieking caricatures of middle-aged despair and hostility. They are good people. This isn’t a Judd Apatow movie.

But it is through Jamie and Darby – played handsomely by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried – that the film eventually finds its edge. They’re Brooklyn hipsters of the most aggravating, Hollywood mode: All jaunty hats, impromptu barbeques in the middle of the street and terrible artwork hanging in massive, cooky loft conversions that no largely unemployed twenty-something couple could possibly afford. Their whole life is a series of wacky, unpredictable japes.

To its credit, though, While We’re Young refuses to take their youthful hijinks at face value. As Jamie begin to work together with Josh in his career as a documentary filmmaker, we begin to get an honest look at the contrasts – the conflicts – between young and old, those too fundamental to be bridged simply by wearing roller skates and getting high.

Interesting questions are asked about the difference in our generational values, in how much – ultimately – we care for the minutiae of truth behind any story, in a world so focused on immediacy, the big picture, the now. What lifts While We’re Young is that it grows into something that is less a mid-life crisis comedy as it is a generational crisis comedy. Simply, it asks: what joy is there in trying to recapture your youth, when the youth you find is too changed, the gulf in world view too great to cross?

It’s in asking these questions that it earns those five stars, becoming something infinitely more compelling than what it initially offers itself up to be. So watch it – persist with it: While We’re Young is one of the smartest indie comedies in some time.

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