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USA 2014
Directed by
Noah Baumbach
97 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

While We're Young

Synopsis:  The lives of an early middle-aged couple, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts), are overturned when they meet a younger married couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried),

Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s film is being marketed as a comedy but it deserves better than that as it is actually a deftly-drawn piece of social commentary and a well-observed portrait of generational change. Which is not to say that While We're Young is not amusing, it is, but the humour is more in the situation rather than verbal or physical gags.

Ben Stiller is well-suited to the character of Josh, a documentary film-maker driven by an old school commitment to truth and justice and who after an impressive debut has been working on his second film for10 years and is still nowhere near completion. Cornelia in turn is vulnerable because of her childlessness, the pair’s affirmation of their going-nowhere lives as the best of all possible worlds ringing hollow.

The Stiller stock character, conflicted, earnestly idealistic and forever thwarted but essentially lovable, is the epicentre of the film. It is Josh who gets swept up in his naïve enthusiasm for Jamie, his insecurities bringing him not only to start aping the dress code and lifestyle of the far more self-possessed and much younger man but to see in him someone he wishes he was and in Jamie and Darby’s relationship the kind of honesty he wishes he had with Cornelia.

Baumbach’s felicitous script derives much humour from the sight of the older couple trying to act young and cool but his film might have only been a variant on Bad Neighbours if that was all it aspired to be.  Rather in a back-handed way his purpose is to give us a portrait of Jamie and Darby and by extension their “entitled” generation as ultimately a horrified Josh realizes it to be. Here Baumach shows savviness by using the character of Cornelia’s father (a virtually unrecognizable Charles Grodin) to mediate Josh’s righteous but in reality, ineffectual, outrage.  

Good as both Watts and Stiller (who also worked with Baumbach on 2010’s Greenberg) are, there is a one noticeable  problem and that is that they are ten years older than the characters they are playing. This throws the credibility factor off slightly and one feels that that Josh and Cornelia are a bit too old to be so totally under the spell of a couple of twenty-somethings. Also, the business about what sort of film Jamie is making seems somewhat fudged. From Josh's perspective it is a hoax but Jamie appears to justify it as 'entertainment' and, somewhat oddly, Cornelia's father takes his side. Baumbach makes the reasons for the former point of view clear but not the latter, which seems to be merely symptomatic of the younger generation's more pragmatic morality,

Despite these reservations, While We're Young is a  wryly amusing account of cultural relativism and the ups and downs of modern life.  




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