Noah Baumbach’s latest coming of age tale is as smart, funny and moving as you’d expect it to be.
After 2012’s Frances Ha, which many were calling a career best, Noah Baumbach returns to New York, this time with the addition of color and a switch in generation. Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Josh (Ben Stiller) are in their mid-forties, watching their friends become parents and their lives reach a point of stagnation; that is, until they meet hip mid-twenties couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who are so Brooklyn Hipster-y it borders on parody.
This is a couple who still write on typewriters, watch analog TV and listen to records while Cornelia and Josh live in a world of technology, playing games on their iPhones and reading on their iPads.
As the two couples become friends, the younger duo take the older two to everything from hip hop dancing to exploring abandoned rail tracks. The script excels here in drawing out the differences between the two couples. For a start Jamie, Josh and Cornelia are in the film industry- Josh has been working on a documentary for the last 10 years and Cornelia is the daughter of legendary documentary filmmaker Ira Mandelstam (Charles Grodin) whom Josh has refused help from. Meanwhile, Jamie echoes a younger Josh, a wide-eyed, imaginative and hopeful filmmaker who feeds of Josh’s knowledge to begin making a documentary of his own. This is the main character dynamic and is the driving force for the film, and Baumbach keeps perfect control of it, shifting each character in turn as another makes a development. Once again NYC provides the perfect backdrop for the characters; the constant willingness to try new things, the perfect fertile environment for the characters’ difference in age to show through in culture rather than habit.
This trend of trends continues throughout the film, and the remarkable grip the film has on contemporary culture is remarkable in how it inherits the characters so fully. Driver’s performance is the most standout of the main cast, relishing in Jamie’s shameless hipstering but it is Amanda Seyfried who perhaps gives the best performance, delivering a surprisingly subtle performance that steals every scene she’s in.
Starting as a comedy and ending as something of a drama, While We’re Young is a film of two halves rather than two acts. Characters change suddenly and sometimes irrationally, and some scenes in particular seem too forced in the natural environment Baumbach is trying to create with his characters. Moments seem uneven, inconsistent perhaps with the theme that we initially start with, with the last half of the film descending almost into melodrama.
The film is smart, but not as smart as it thinks it is, with its obscure pop culture references and cultural know-how, but at its core While We’re Young is something of a highbrow simple pleasure. Whimsical, thoughtful and in some ways enlightening, this is a charming film that is sadly like most of this director’s films, destined to fall under the radar.