Getting older does not always mean getting wiser. I am now over 30, and I got a Ph.D degree at last early in this year with a job ready for me, but I still do not know well which next step I want to take. Many younger people at my workplace think I know better, but I am at loss whenever they want something from me, and I often become wistful about things I did not do during my good old campus years, like learning more, for instance.
While my age puts me somewhere between two different couples in Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young”, I observed them with sober moments of amusement and recognition. As watching the younger couple, I was reminded that I was once there when I was younger, though I was far less outgoing in comparison. As watching the older couple, I mused that I will soon enter their territory within years, probably with someone as my partner or spouse.
The movie mainly focuses on the older couple, so we see the story mostly through their view. Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentary filmmaker who has been working on his personal project for 10 years without any significant development, and the fact that he is the son-in-law of a legendary documentary filmmaker pressures him everyday. His wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), who works as the producer for her father, suggests her husband that he should get some help from her father, but that is the last thing wanted by Josh – even when he runs out of money to pay his faithful editor Tim (Matthew Maher).
On one day, Josh accidentally encounters Jamie (Adam Driver), who approaches to Josh at the end of his small lecture on documentary filmmaking. As a young guy eager to start his own career, Jamie wants to learn more from Josh, and Jamie and his girlfriend Darby (Amanda Seyfried) soon get closer to Josh and Cornelia, who cannot help but attracted to the youthful energy of Jamie and Darby. They surely feel the generation gap between them and their new friends, but they feel younger whenever they hang around with Jamie and Darby, so they begin to spend more time with them.
Jamie and Darby are living a life full of fancy retro styles, and one of the most amusing moments in the film is a montage sequence going back and forth between their daily life and Josh and Cornelia’s to present many ironic contrasts between these two different couples. While Josh and Cornelia are pretty comfortable with many digital tools represented by CD, MP3, and online streaming services like Netflix, Jamie and Darby prefer more analog things as reflected by their vast collections of LP, VHS, and (gasp) cassette tape. Jamie says he even bought a VHS copy of Josh’s old documentary through an auction website, and Josh comes to like more this young man who looks willing to learn anything from him, though he does not have many things to tell as a guy still desperate to prove himself as a documentary filmmaker of independent voice.
And then there comes an unbelievably good opportunity for Jamie not along after Josh reluctantly agrees to assist Jamie’s own small documentary project. Watching Jamie getting onto the way which may lead to more career success, Josh naturally becomes envious and unhappy about this changing circumstance. It is fun to be with Jamie, but Jamie’s growing potential as a documentary filmmaker painfully reminds Josh of where he is currently stuck in, and he becomes more aware of that he is not that young anymore. Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horovitz), who were Josh and Cornelia’s best friends before the arrival of Jamie and Darby, have recently moved onto the next stage of their life as the parents with a baby, and there is a funny scene when Josh is informed by his doctor that middle age is probably a lot closer to him that he thought.
In case of Cornelia, she also experiences similar things through her encounter with Jamie and Darby. She wanted to have a baby several years ago, but she and her husband eventually decided not to have a baby after a number of painful failures. She and Josh think they can still be happy despite that, but, as watching Jamie and Darby, she misses when she and her husband were more passionate toward each other, and that leads to an unfortunate incident when she and Josh participate in a psychedelic ritual along with Jamie and Darby. While everyone becomes dopey and nauseous as warned, she happens to reveal her deep wish to a wrong person, and that mistake results in another strain in the relationship between her and her husband.
The witty, sharp screenplay by the director Noah Baumbach, who previously directed “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) and “Frances Ha” (2012), establishes well engaging, if not likable, characters to watch. The mutual interactions between them are funny and insightful thank to his lightweight but acerbic humor, and the soundtrack, which consists of various classic music pieces and contemporary pop music pieces, works as a delightful accompaniment as the cinematographer Sam Levy’s camera watches the characters casually roaming around the streets of New York.
The actors in the film are suitably cast in each case. Ben Stiller, who previously collaborated with Baumback in “Greenberg” (2010), and Naomi Watts have a good chemistry between them, and I and the audiences around me especially enjoyed an effortlessly warm, humorous scene where their characters come upon a chance to have a little fun together through one spontaneous moment. Considering their rising status as new young actors to watch, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried are ideal counterparts to their co-stars; Driver is wryly deadpan as Jamie, who eventually turns out to be quite banal and self-absorbed, openly reveals what is deemed by Josh as evil and unethical, and Seyfried does more than what is demanded from her rather underdeveloped role. Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz are also good as a couple who has their own problems, and Charles Grodin has a juicy supporting part as Josh’s father-in-law, who cannot be easily outraged as a seasoned master who has seen all in his field (Small trivia: Grodin was a small but crucial supporting performer in “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), which is incidentally mentioned in the middle of the film).
Although its third act arrives at the ending in a way a little too easy and abrupt and some of its supporting characters are too broad and cartoonish to be accepted, “While We’re Young” is a nice intimate comedy film with charm and wits in spite of its uneven sides. I had a fair share of laughs and amusements, and, after the movie was over, I wondered how I will regard this film 10 years later. I really hope I will be a little wiser to deal with my own matters at that point.