Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
When Noah Baumbach first truly broke on to the movie scene with his seminal 2005 masterpiece The Squid and the Whale, many critics cited him as one of the key future filmmakers in American independent cinema. Here was a writer/director with the skill to explore the different areas of our growth and development with originality and without having to resort to sensationalism and sentimentality.
While We’re Young, Baumbach’s latest offering, is essentially a compendium of the ideas the director explored in his previous two films Greenberg and Frances Ha. At its heart is childless documentarian filmmakers Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts), both of who are bewildered by their impending middle age and curious about what their future has to offer them. However, their lives are soon rejuvenated when they form a strong friendship with the disarmingly young Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver & Amanda Seyfried).
In many ways, this is Baumbach’s most interesting and intelligent film to date. The script, wise, witty and effortlessly engaging in an offbeat way that’s akin to Woody Allen, allows for an amusing discourse that ruminates upon our innate desire to either move on from or rediscover our youth.
The performances encapsulate these two ends of the generational spectrum. On the one hand is Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts’ straitlaced couple suffering a mid-life crises, and on the other is Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried’s brightly spirited adolescent bohemians. Stiller incorporates a restrained charisma that’s never once overbearing, while Watts instills the film with an understated air of pathos as we see her mind wander to what might have been as the film progresses. Between them, the two share a natural chemistry with each other and crucially lack a combined confidence when faced with a world that doesn’t conform to their scheduled routine, which perfectly plays off of Driver and Seyfried’s free spirited and charismatic younger couple.
Baumbach’s problem is that once he’s set the wheels of his story in motion, he struggles to truly express his intentions. The main caveat is the muddled plot, which progresses in to a multi-layered mantra that deliberates upon our technologically obsessed society, the ignorance of the younger generation and, most disjointedly, the question of ethical standards in modern documentary filmmaking.
Indeed, it’s the writer/director’s overloaded vision that eventually turns While We’re Young into such inconsistent viewing. As with all of Baumbach’s films there’s a lot to admire here, but the structure soon becomes so messy that it’s hard to appreciate any of it.