Film review: WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, from ‘Built For Speed’

Greenberg and Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach’s latest film While We’re Young is an insightful, sporadically funny comedy/drama about artistic integrity, the disappointments of middle age and the cultural clash between Generations X and Y. Oddly this film has been sold as a light relationship comedy but it’s a more substantial film than that.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as Josh and Cornelia a married couple who have given up on the idea of having children and whose careers as documentary film-makers have stalled. Feeling enslaved by middle-age and their smart phones they’re suddenly re-energised when they meet twenty-something hipster couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is an aspiring filmmaker who claims to greatly admire Josh’s low-budget socially responsible films. As Jamie becomes increasingly involved in Josh’s latest film, a dry documentary about an eccentric intellectual, the euphoria of their relationship begins to give way as people’s real motives become apparent.

Baumbach has a sharp eye for cultural mores with Jamie and Darby living in a world of ironic retro cultural detritus preferring typewriters for computers and vinyl for CDs or downloads while their flat is a veritable junk yard of quirky pop-cultural artefacts.  Similarly, Baumbach perfectly captures the tech obsessed smugness of professional 40-somethings who have traded artistic courage for financial stability and convenience.  Baumbach also shows how personal dissatisfaction can produce gullibility as Josh and Cornelia embrace Jamie and Darby’s lifestyle and treat them as some sort of saviours.

The first 20 minutes of While We’re Young offer a wonderfully potent funny insight into contemporary values and behaviours but as he did in Frances Ha and Greenberg, Baumbach takes his foot off the pedal and cruises at various points in this film.  Consequently, the wit and the insights aren’t as searing as the film initially promises.

Still, Baumbach seems to bring out the best in Stiller giving him plenty of space for his amiable cynicism and occasional indignant outbursts.  He is matched by Jamie Driver who provides an amusingly irritating view of youthful over-confidence and hipster pretensions.  The female characters, however, are a little underwritten particularly Amanda Seyfried’s Darby who seems to flit in and out of the film.

Importantly, though, the film makes thought-provoking observations about the documentary form, the nature of truth in storytelling and the relevance of documentaries in a world where everyone has a camera with them every minute of the day. There are also some welcome cinematic in-jokes such as references to Rosemary’s Baby and Rodney Dangerfield.

While We’re Young will, more than the excessively cute Frances Ha, resonate more with the depicted demographic of 40-somethings but will still leave a gnawing sense that it wasn’t a thoroughly realised film.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Noah Baumbach.

Release date: 16th April 2015.

Running time: 97 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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