A Gen-X story about growing old, and the youth-envy that comes with it, Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young provides plenty of midlife laughs, but a deep understanding of ageing as well. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a middle-aged couple who seem behind in the babymaking game, although not entirely through their own choice. As their close group of friends seem pre-occupied with their children, Josh and Cornelia seem more at peace with their childless lives and the freedom to do what they want, when they want; as long as it is planned at least a month in advance. When Josh meets the young Jamie and Darby, a mid-twenties married couple, who radiate coolness through their homemade furniture and impressive record collection, the two couples become close friends. As the older of the two desperately try to close the generational gap by taking part in in hip hop classes and cultish, drug inducing trips, they begin to discover that their younger, trendier friends may not be all that they seem, and that modern day youth may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
There’s an assumption to be made that as While We’re Young is about middle aged people, that it’ll only appeal to middle aged people. Whilst I’m sure the film will take on a whole new meaning for me when I watch it twenty years from now, it must be said that it transcends age by including enough wit, enough drama, and enough social commentary to appeal to almost anybody; ‘old’ or otherwise. Produced, written, and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film has a sense of a semi-autobiographical knowing, much like his previous feature, The Squid and the Whale. Again, the action is set in and around Brooklyn, Baumbach’s hometown which is renowned for the type of hipsters that are depicted in the film. Baumbach seems to be talking from first hand experience in the way his characters are developed; lovingly mocking the very people who are probably amongst his biggest fans out there.
Noah Baumbach’s films – along with those of regular collaborator Wes Anderson – often garner huge praise from the hipster generation, who love the highly stylised, quirky films that, much like Jamie’s record collection in the film, boast a wide array of musical genre’s. This time, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame, provides the soundtrack. The inclusion of his music, along with the remarkable look of being shot on film -despite actually being shot digitally – hints that Baumbach himself may have more in common with the young, trilby wearing elitist’s, than you may think. It’s contradictory in a way, as the younger characters are really the antagonists of the piece, along with age. Perhaps it isn’t a clear cut as that though; perhaps Baumbach actually has a love/hate relationship with the youth of today; a love/hate relationship that comes across through the bromance between Josh and Jamie.
It’s this feeling of insight that the film creates, that really makes While We’re Young intelligent, as well as humorous. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a talking point, but me and my fiancée spoke about it at length afterwards. We reflected on the themes of the film; compared ourselves and people we knew to the characters in the film; discussed what we thought we would be like twenty years from now. It quickly became apparent that While We’re Young is more than a frivolous funny, and is actually a very human exploration into modern day society and relationships.
All of this isn’t to say that While We’re Young isn’t funny. Far from it. It’s layered with consistent laughs, and one scene in particular, which sees Ben Stiller’s Josh pitching a documentary to an film executive, made me laugh louder in the cinema than anything in recent memory. As well as being genuinely witty, the film is drenched in paranoia, which I really loved too. As the couple’s friendship turns into a professional relationship, Josh begins to think that their chance meeting might not be by chance at all. As character’s motives are revealed, there’s an ambiguity surrounding them that come into fruition in the film’s final moments. Baumbach brilliantly portrays both sides of the argument, once again proving his talent for writing fully realised people.
The film also touches on film-making itself, with a focus on documentaries and maintaining an untouched authenticity in a before-and-after society. While We’re Young certainly feels authentic, with stand out performances from all of the cast, and lovely photography that captures the heart of the city beautifully. More than anything though, it’s the unshakeable sense of familiarity that makes While We’re Young such an absorbing watch. It’s funny, charming, and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t relate to at least one of the characters, for better, or for worse.
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