Apparently the only way to move on from a new Fast and Furious movie is visiting the worlds of Noah Baumbach. I guess it’s appropriate to check in with storytelling that is pretty grounded after watching some of the preposterous stunts you’ll ever see. After Fast and Furious 6‘s counterpart Frances Ha showed us a slightly different side of the writer-director, Baumbach once again wields Ben Stiller as a weapon for and against ageism in While We’re Young.
This is the story of an uptight, narcissistic documentary filmmaker called Josh (Ben Stiller), who gets swept off his feet by Jamie, an aspiring documentarian (Adam Driver), and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Josh and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) have been going through a rough patch – Josh is into the eighth year of his latest documentary with no end in sight and Cornelia is being fazed out by her friend who recently had a baby – so they find the young couple’s exuberance rejuvenating. But will they be able to change their ways or would it be better if they acted their age?
It’s concerning that I found myself relating much more to the 43-year-old Josh than the pretty-much-exactly-my-age Jamie. Josh is selfish and sometimes says pretty shitty stuff, especially to his wise father-in-law (Charles Grodin), but mostly he’s a guy who wants to make something great without really knowing how to do that. He’s someone who wants to be better than he currently is, but without the discipline to really do that either. He’s one of Baumbach’s best characters and a pleasant reminder that Ben Stiller is pretty good.
Not to undersell the rest of the cast, but it’s definitely Josh’s story. Cornelia gets plenty of screentime but I’m not sure I ever figured out what her story was about. She seemed to just be along for the ride. Jamie starts out as a sort of Bohemian, New York, artsy, dude which I guess is pretty much Adam Driver’s ally. Sadly he and Amanda Seyfried kind of devolve as the movie goes on, with Seyfried’s character seemingly getting written out of the movie in time for the third act. It’s a shame, Seyfried brought a lot of intrigue to her character and it would have been nice to get to know her better.
The reason for that is a kind of frustrating detour the story takes into Broadcast News territory. While We’re Young starts out as a story about a couple dealing with not having had a kid and getting old, with Josh, Cornelia, and Jamie’s careers in documentaries tying into that. However, the movie eventually decides to just straight up dive into that world, with our characters talking about the right way to make documentaries as well as history’s greatest documentarians and the precarious state of the form in an age when everyone already videotapes and shares everything online. This is not a subject I’m an expert on, and the namedropping of famous old documentarians goes right over my head. I don’t get it, but maybe I’m an idiot.
I guess I’d put While We’re Young on about Greenberg‘s level – it’s not as triumphant as Frances Ha nor as resonant as The Squid and the Whale. It’s not hilarious or profound, but it’s easy to enjoy and laugh at and complex enough to get you thinking about the modern era, technology, aging, mortality, and art. We’re all headed in the same direction, you know? We’re all going to get older and die. Might as well try to figure that out while we’re still young enough to deal with it.