6 out of 10
Ben Stiller as Josh
Directed by Noah Baumbach
When documentary filmmaker Josh (Ben Stiller) meets young married couple Jamie and Darcy (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried) in his class, he’s fascinated by their youthful energy, so he and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) start hanging out with them, much to the concern of their more age-appropriate friends.
Noah Baumbach has gotten a lot more prolific in the past few years and maybe we can credit that to his mumblecore muse Greta Gerwig, who appeared in Baumbach’s Greenberg alongside Ben Stiller and has done two projects with him since then. While We’re Young seems like a good companion piece to Greenberg in that it allows Baumbach to use his shrewd sense of humor about social politics to tackle a diverse number of subjects including parenthood, aging and annoying Brooklyn hipsters.
The opening quoted conversation about opening the door to let young people in is a good preamble to this tale of two different generations trying to connect, which Baumbach uses to make a number of astute and clever observations about how different the older generation is from the current one.
What immediately bothered me about Baumbach’s latest is the way this younger generation is depicted. I myself tend to hang out with people who are nearly 20 years my junior, and if any of them acted as obnoxious or clueless as Adam Driver’s Jamie and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), I wouldn’t want anything to do with them. As much as Jamie and Darby are meant to represent what’s going on with young people today, their desire to embrace vinyl and VHS over the the instant gratification of digitally downloading music and movies just doesn’t seem realistic either.
At this point, it will come as no surprise that Baumbach is once again working with unrepentantly flawed characters with Josh and Cornelia being extremely selfish, and the younger characters being equally pretentious and self-serving, even if they’re better at masking it. If one didn’t know better, one might think the 45-year-old filmmaker is snubbing his nose at the friends of his collaborator (and girlfriend) Greta Gerwig – Jamie and Darby could easily have come straight out of their previous movie Frances Ha. The two generations are able to find common ground the more time they spend together, but Josh’s mid-life crisis culminates when the foursome take drugs in order to discover themselves spiritually. It leads to a scene with a lot of vomiting and trippy philosophizing you might expect in a much dumber comedy, and it’s where the film’s seams start to show.
With Greenberg, Stiller proved himself to be an apt vessel to represent Baumbach’s wry humor, although his character here isn’t different enough from the title role in their previous movie together to show that either of them has grown since then. (As much as I personally loved The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it wasn’t because Stiller ever offers much dynamic range with the roles he plays.) Watts is surprisingly good at doing comedy, particularly in the scenes where she’s trying to keep up with Darby by hip-hop dancing, one of the funnier visual gags in the movie.
Adam Driver is also perfectly cast as Jamie, because he’s so good at being funny and obnoxious at the same time, and you always end up liking him even when it’s obvious he’s using Josh for his own means. On the other hand, it feels like any actress could have played Darby and brought more to it than Seyfried, who creates a fairly bland character with few defining characteristics to set herself apart, especially when compared to Watts. Like I mentioned earlier, she never seems like someone who one might interested in spending any sort of time with, going by her minimal role in the story.
Where the movie really begins to falter is when Baumbach tries to create an actual plot around the simple premise. Josh has spent ten years working on a long-winded doc while ignoring the advice of his father-in-law Leslie, a hugely respected documentarian played by Charles Grodin. When Jamie enlists Josh to help him make a documentary about a former schoolmate (Brady Corbet), a troubled Afghanistan vet, it starts to cause friction in the prideful Josh, as well as affect his marriage. Their conflict leads to a ridiculous last act turn that pays a far-too-obvious homage to the end of The Graduate.
While the epilogue does get things back on track to the film’s original intentions, you’re left feeling as if Baumbach knew exactly what he wanted to convey but got sidetracked by the desire to create some sort of drama in order to challenge the funny character dynamics.
The Bottom Line:
Baumbach continues to be a better writer than he is a director, and while his snarky, often unlikeable characters and unrealistic situations tend to undermine his clever observations on life, While We’re Young is hurt more by its weak plot and resolution than anything else.