Twenty-something hipster Jamie (Adam Driver) offers up a pair of headphones to Josh (Ben Stiller), a forty-five-year-old documentary filmmaker. As “Eye of the Tiger” blares on the soundtrack Josh says, “I remember when this song was just supposed to be bad.”
Josh and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless married couple living in Manhattan. They’re comfortably easing into middle age when they meet Jamie and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), an impossibly hip married couple who live in a Harlem loft stuffed with vinyl records, manual typewriters and good vibes.
The young’uns lead an intoxicating life, connected to every neo-New York trend. They eat at artisanal restaurants, raid thrift shops for clothes and partake in ayahuasca ceremonies (which leads to one of my favourite lines: “Maybe don’t flirt with the shaman.”). While Josh and Cornelia bash away on the latest smart phones, Jamie and Darby have embraced the retro chic of VHS. They’re so cool they don’t even use Google. When Josh pulls out his phone to search for a word they’ve all blanked on, Jamie and Darby demur. “Let’s just not know,” Jamie says.
The relationship between the two couples is one of mutual mentorship. Josh and Cornelia go to hip hop classes and bourbon tastings, feeling young again alongside their new found friends while Jamie and Darby look to the older couple for help with a film Jamie is trying to make.
The dramatic conflict comes late in the movie when it becomes clear that Jamie isn’t as easy going as everyone first thought.
It’s a bit too easy to compare writer/director Baumbach to Woody Allen, but it’s apt. Both are New York filmmakers to the core and both, at their best, comment on life in the microcosm of that city’s life. Their stories are both specific and universal, micro and macro, and hone in on the behaviour that makes us human, for better and for worse.
In “While We’re Young” Baumbach inhabits Allen’s turf, making a comedy for adults that by turns skewers and embraces the very people he’s making the movie for. It’s a grown up look at growing up. Intelligent and funny, it highlights the insecurities attached to middle age, while celebrating the wisdom and sense of purpose that can only come with experience.
Bambauch is generous with his characters–Jamie and Darby aren’t caricatures of trendoid NYC dolts but nicely etched portraits of Generation Y kids struggling to find a place in the world—and is aided by terrific performances. Nobody does pent up anxiety like Stiller and for Driver this is the next step up the ladder to huge mainstream success. Watts and Seyfried aren’t given as much to do, although they have some of the film’s best lines. “If I stay here any longer I’ll Girl, Interrupt,” says Darby with mock seriousness. Charles Grodin has a small but important part as a legendary documentarian—think vérité hero D. A. Pennebaker—whose caustic charm and way with a line—”You just showed me a six-and-a-half hour long film that felt seven hours too long.”—is worth the price of admission alone.
“While We’re Young” is a terrific film with razor sharp insights to the differences and similarities between Gen X and Y.