While We’re Young (2015)
Directed/written by Noah Baumbach
No director today has starred in as many hipster wet dreams as Wes Anderson. But Anderson’s movies aren’t a one-man show. His Oscar-winning set and costume designers help. So, too, has two-time Anderson co-writer Noah Baumbach, whose own directorial debut came in 2005 with “The Squid and the Whale,” a semi-autobiographical account of Baumbach’s childhood. His newest, “While We’re Young,” also tackles an important time in Baumbach’s life — middle age.
Documentarians Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Josh (Ben Stiller) are losing all of their friends to parenthood. The loving New York couple has tried, and failed, to have children, and has since abandoned the idea. They love their life as it is now, full of freedoms that most of their friends can no longer claim they have. When a youthful, beguiling couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), enroll in Josh’s class about documentary filmmaking, Josh invites them to lunch with his wife. As their friendship with the kiddos blossoms, Josh and Cornelia revel in the freedom of the youthful counter-culture they once thrived in. But soon they’ll realize being young in today’s world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
“While We’re Young” is distinctly of this time, but also entirely of its own world. Jamie and Darby do hipster things I had no idea even existed. That’s the complicated nature of today’s youth. Hipsters love Baumbach, but “While We’re Young” seems to give them the middle finger. Sure, Jamie is a new hipster icon – the vinyl collection, the fedora, the typewriter — but Josh and Cornelia realize that growing old isn’t something to run from. Baumbach seems to reject today’s trends, like the overuse of smart phones and the constant need to film and document every instance of one’s daily life. He suggests that this constant need to share has ruined the future of documentary filmmaking – but even more, the future of living. Okay, maybe that’s harsh. But Baumbach’s screenplay is smartly written. It’s a manifesto for anyone trying to avoid growing up.
If film casting is an art, Francine Frasier is its Picasso. Her résumé includes films like “The Usual Suspects,” “As Good as it Gets,” “Tropic Thunder,” and two Best Picture winners, “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman.” Along with frequent Wes Anderson casting director Douglas Aibel, Frasier puts together another wonderful ensemble in “While We’re Young.” Driver and Seyfried are soon-to-be heroes of the hipster counter-culture. They live in a flat with a roommate, two cats, and a pet chicken. They read old books and listen to Foreigner. And they have the care free energy that define their characters. Driver and Stiller have an interesting multi-generational bromantic chemistry. It’s truly something to behold. And Naomi Watts, fresh off a Screen Actors Guild ensemble win for “Birdman” and another nomination for “St. Vincent,” shows she’s back in a big way. Can I coin the term Naomaissance?
An unsatisfactory ending is intentional. It serves the bigger point, that individualism will inevitably lead to people choosing immorality. We don’t want that ending, but the point is it doesn’t matter. We have to accept it. To call “While We’re Young” a coming-of-age story wouldn’t be entirely false — it’s just that, in this case, the age is closer to 50 than 15. “While We’re Young” is the movie of the moment. It’s as meaningful for people coming to terms with their middle age as it is for hipsters finding an identity of their own. It’s one of the best films of the year.