Film review: ‘While we’re young’

Looks like Stiller vehicle, but the driver’s different


Indie prince Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid & The Whale) has crafted a treatise on the perils of wandering backwards through the middle years – of flirting with the possibility of re-engaging with one’s youth. It’s also a fiction film about the ethics of documentary. Therein lies Baumbach’s real concern: the narrative is built around a series of deceptions, lies told to the protagonists, but more importantly, lies told by the protagonists to themselves.

Generation X meets Y

Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) are a couple in their mid-40s who, after several miscarriages, have given up on the idea of a family and live accordingly. Surrounded by friends knee-deep in nappies, the pair cherish their freedom and ability to act spontaneously – but crucially, they rarely exercise it. They’ve fallen into a rut.

Josh is a documentary filmmaker who lectures at a local college and has spent the last eight years working on his second film, apparently in denial at his reasons for having not yet finished it. His father-in-law is something of an Errol Morris-type figure in that he is renowned in documentary circles and, despite his offers to help Josh (Josh being too proud to accept), has become more of an antagonistic presence in Josh’s life. To make matters worse, his wife Cornelia produces her father’s award-winning documentaries.

When Josh is approached by a 20-something couple, Jamie (Driver) and his ice cream-making wife Darby (Seyfried), who are fans of Josh’s previous film, Josh is flattered and immediately a friendship develops. A series of double dates leave the older couple feeling energised and inspired by the junior pair. Soon Josh and Cornelia are helping with Jamie’s film career …

Cross-generational insights
There are several insightful scenes that examine the gulf between the two generations, embodied by the similarities in Jamie and Josh’s music collection and contrasted by the fact that Jamie’s is a vast wall of vinyl where Josh has boxes of CDs.

There’s a great moment when in conversation, the couples collectively forget the name of a film’s director (or some such trivia). Josh and Cornelia instinctively gun for their smartphones, but the younger couple insist that instead they all try to remember – and on being unable to pry the factoid from their brains, the younger pair simply grin, enjoying their state of ‘not knowing’.

Driver’s force is strong
Stiller is realible with such fare, as always, while Watts is building an impressive CV in comedic performances, but this film is all Driver’s. First noted in HBO’s Girls and soon to be immortalised in the Star Wars franchise, Adam Driver successfully navigates a perilous tightrope between minty fresh retro-charmer and pretentious hipster weasel.

Ostensibly it’s a film that’s very now, less funny than it is wise, with that nowness threatening to overshadow the acutely drawn observations about the way in which we all routinely fail at being ourselves – too often confusing life with our lifestyles.

It’s a dramedy with the emphasis on drama, although this is not entirely intentional, evidenced in many of the explicitly comedic moments that play flat or over-baked. True to the film’s themes of deception, trailers attempt to hook you with another fuzzy Stiller vehicle – it looks like that relationship comedy you’ve seen before. To Baumbach’s credit, you haven’t.