Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

Meandering aimlessly, and without heavy plot, what’s clear about director Noah Baumbach’s films is that he’s only interested in focusing on particular stages in our lives. Themes find people when they’re stuck in a rut, unsure of the direction they’re going in or what they’re doing. His 2005 film “The Squid and The Whale” reflected his own parents’ divorce, depicting two teenage boys having to choose sides between their mother and father. His 2010 picture “Greenberg,” his best film, was a character study of a 40-something house hermit who came back to Los Angeles after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Afterward, 2013’s “Frances Ha” gave us glimpses into the life of a twenty-seven year old, financially crippled young woman, rapidly leaving her adolescent college years behind and approaching mid-age.
In “While We’re Young,” Baumbach puts us in the shoes of Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), two documentary filmmakers living in Brooklyn who, as a couple, become deeply afflicted by the shapelessness of their future, even though they’re still happily married.
Set against the idea of having a child in response to their boredom, as it may be too late for Cornelia anyway who’s now met the age of 43, the pair attempt to put an end to their discontent by befriending a younger twenty-five year old, free spirited couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Along the way, they wear trendy fedoras, attend a spiritually-cleansing ritual where they literally throw up their inner-demons, and try out hip-hop classes, dancing to 2Pac’s “Hit Em’ Up.”
Baumbach is one of my favorite current filmmakers. He’s like Wes Anderson if Anderson not gotten excessively cute with his stylization after his fantastic 1998 sophomore film “Rushmore” (I’m still a huge fan of Anderson. I just sometimes wish he’d regress to his more grounded approach). And although “While We’re Young” may not reach the heights of Baumbach’s previously mentioned films, it’s still a buoyant, comedically searing and biting look into the generational gap between two generation Xers and two millennials, piercing some significant truths about ageing in our ever-changing technological worlds. The movie actually opens up to a series of passages and dialogue from Ibsen’s 1892 play “The Master Builder,” in which a character explains his fearful anxiety of the insatiable and untrustworthy upcoming generation. From there, the film cuts deep into the harsh disparity of losing one’s youth, but never quits being amusing with it’s razor-sharp, back-and-forth banter. One scene involves Josh, after having sprained a muscle in his back, visiting a doctor who informs that the more serious concern is the arthritis in his knees. Josh replies, “Arthritis, Arthritis?” as if there’s some kind of alternate, less severe type that differs from the condition that’s usually associated with being a senior citizen. “I usually just say it once,” The doctor replies bluntly, “you’re getting old.” The film packs a cruel punch that’s so honest it becomes comical, rather than gloomy and miserable.
While the first two-thirds of “While We’re Young” hold up adequately and are just fine, it takes a strangely serious diversion in its third act that’s quite jarring, detaching itself from the routine tale of a couple yearning for the nostalgia of youth, and instead becoming some sort of social commentary conspiracy thriller on media manipulation, ethics and the responsibility documentary filmmakers have in regards to authenticity. Had I been briefed on this before seeing the film, perhaps it would’ve been able to let it sink in more naturally, but since I hadn’t, I was left wondering, “What happened to the hipsters living in New York City apartments comedy I was just watching?” Regardless, this switch in tone only puts a mild damper on the film, and only makes me curious to revisit it a second time to reevaluate my feelings towards that transition. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the wandering narrative of “Greenberg” during my first viewing, but upon revisiting it years later, it became a personal favorite.
“While We’re Young” often comes across as a side project for Baumbach, always lacking something that his previous films fully encompass, although it’s certainly worth visiting if one has enjoyed his previous works. Lucky for fans of the filmmaker, he has another film set to release this 2015 entitled “Mistress America,” with a plot that is described as a college freshman student attempting to find a cure for her loneliness through her stepsister. Perhaps “Mistress America” will be the weigher of the two films and appeal to me more. Until then, “While We’re Young” is an easy going, enjoyable outing in Baumbach’s catalogue that will most likely be welcomed by all who’ve seen his previous films.
Rob Gabe is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.

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