Title: While We’re Young
Director: Noah Baumbach
Major Players: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver
Out Of Five: Four
Noah Baumbach looks to be following in the footsteps of collaborator, Wes Anderson. Both made their names writing and directing distinctive indie films – Baumbach wrote a couple for Anderson – but recent years have seen Anderson expand into the mainstream. His most recent offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, has been a runaway success, critically and commercially. In While We’re Young, it’s Baumbach’s turn to dip his toe in the mainstream – and the water’s fine!
Forty-somethings Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are enjoying the apparent freedom of their child-free marriage. He mixes documentary making with lecturing and at one of his teaching sessions meets Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried). The two couples soon become friends and the younger pair open up a whole new world of possibilities for the older ones. Initially it’s fun and liberating, but as time goes on Josh starts to suspect there’s something else going on.
At long last, an intelligent comedy for adults! This is all about getting older and how to relate to younger people. It doesn’t so much ask whether men and women can be friends without sex getting in the way, but whether older and younger people be friends without the age difference getting in the way. If the film is anything to go by, the answer is probably no, but it takes time to find out. And it’s an enjoyable journey.
For the first half of the film, the older couple lap it up. Not only are the twenty-somethings refreshingly spontaneous and relaxed, their tastes are appealingly retro. Jamie has a massive collection of vinyl but no CDs, writes on an IBM Golfball, not a laptop. Yet the older couple’s lives are ruled by their mobile phones and tablets. But, even more importantly, the attention they give the older couple is flattering, ego-boosting even, especially for documentary maker Josh who’s been working on the same film for the past ten years. Jamie’s a fan of one of his films and a little praise goes a long way. All About Eve is coming to mind ……
It’s very much a film of two halves, with the first coming out on top. Most of the humour is there and it boils down to Baumbach’s razor sharp observations about getting older and the extent to which older people will ignore that their bodies are, inevitably, aging. Josh follows Jamie by wearing a hat and riding a bicycle, but his attempts to appear ageless are fruitless. The second half has a less witty tone as the relationship between the two couples develops further. The film doesn’t exactly lose its way, but it does slip into something more conventional.
The acting is very nicely judged. This is the best thing I’ve seen Stiller do, but it’s Adam Driver who steals the film as Jamie, with his unconventional looks and attitudes and serpent-like movements. His appearances in Inside Llewyn Davis and What If marked him out as a significant talent and his performance here shows it’s only a matter of time before he’s on the ‘A’ list.
At a time when comedies aim for the lowest common denominator, While We’re Young is genuinely funny and grown up. And it’s all the more welcome for it. It’s not so much a breath of fresh air as a full scale hurricane. Give us more!
While We’re Young goes on general release on Friday, 3 April.