REVIEW: While We’re Young

6 05 2015

If you mentioned the phrase “my generation” to people my parents’ age (straddling the Baby Boomer/Generation X boundary), they might start humming that hopelessly catchy song by The Who.  Ask millennials like myself what those two words signal and a combination groan and eye-roll will likely follow.

By this point, I have learned to take bulk criticism of people my age in stride, though biting my tongue on the gloom-and-doom predictions made about us does bother me quite a bit.  So long as there have been independently minded youth, there have been an older vanguard of adults sneering at the perceived ruin brought about by change to the establishment.  The lyrics may change over time, yet the melody remains the same.

While We’re Young,” from writer/director Noah Baumbach, arrives whistling that tired tune fearing the slow-dawning apocalypse of those darned kids these days.  What looked like a fascinating examination of intergenerational differences, rivalries, and friendships wound up playing like a cranky old relative or professor erecting a soapbox for themselves to rant about their monolithic conception of millennials.

Whether a running gag about a younger character not offering to pick up a check or Adam Horovitz’s Fletcher ranting about cell phone dependency, Baumbach barely conceals his personal disdain behind the veneer of his fictional creations.  His stance seems to imply the twentysomethings of today are uniquely self-involved, duplicitous, and dishonorable.  Has he forgotten that the Greatest Generation and the older end of the Baby Boomers said the same things about his cohort?  Rather than let his age provide a vantage point of wisdom on the issues he explores, his advanced years appear only to ensconce his bitterness.

While We're Young

I am well aware that “While We’re Young” is a comedy, and Baumbach may exaggerate some character aspects for humorous effect.  But the disparities between the portrayals of the film’s young couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) and their middle-aged counterparts Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) are too massive to ignore.  The Bohemian Bushwickians feel like overgeneralized stereotypes of the modern hipsters, cherishing a prior generation’s nostalgia as kitsch.  If these absurd characters are supposed to stand in for everyone around my age, then stop the world, I want to get off.

Stiller likely plays a surrogate of Baumbach himself – the character is even a filmmaker, for heaven’s sake – and thus unsurprisingly possesses a more grounded pretentiousness.  Josh’s motivations and inherent goodness are scarcely called into question as he gets enticed by the allure of youth culture thanks to the adoration of his student Jamie.  Of course, once he discovers how his pupil might destroy the very sanctity of documentary film, Josh quickly changes his ways.

Watts has far more interesting issues to deal with, primarily because they all feel painfully true.  Cornelia battles against social exclusion amongst her peers for being childless, indicative of a larger social stigma against “selfish” women who do not assume a maternal role.  How much of Cornelia’s status is really her “choice” becomes a major point of contention between she and Josh, who also quarrel over how involved they ought to get with their energetic new companions.

Even with a solid performance by Watts, I still yearned for the more authentic humans that populate Baumbach’s best work in “Frances Ha,” “The Squid and the Whale,” and “Kicking & Screaming.”  Those three films put people on screen, whereas “While We’re Young” exhibits obviously fictional characters in obviously plotted scenarios.  Though it may have periodic flashes of Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the artifice stands out in contrast to the very real conversation Baumbach seeks to start with this film.  Hopefully this movie was just him blowing off some steam and laying out some of his grievances before really coming to the table for a level-headed discussion about age groups and the continuing survival of society in spite of newborns.  B2halfstars

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5 responses

11 05 2015
ninvoid99

While I would put this in the middle-tier of films by Noah Baumbach as it doesn’t reach the heights of the films you mentioned. I still think it is a compelling film about growing old and wanting to feel young.

11 05 2015
Marshall

Very true. But heaven forbid you want to be 2010s young, which is inherently inferior to 1980s young!!

12 05 2015
ninvoid99

Exactly. I don’t listen to much new music these days nor do I own anything like cellphones for smartphones to distract me. Plus, I hate hipsters. They’re brainless snobs trying to be cool. I could care less about being cool.

12 05 2015
Paul S

It has its moments, but just as the credits rolled, I got the strangest feeling of having been smacked over the head. Very probably due to the image that they ended on.

12 05 2015
Marshall

Smacked over the head in a positive or negative way? I will say, the ending did partially redeem the film for me. Didn’t want to write too extensively about it so as not to spoil.

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