Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young takes a wonderfully incisive look at how people exist in the 21st Century. Baumbach casts a keen eye on how we interact in a digital age, where everything is disposable and easily cast aside. That’s not just technology, but morals and opinions are lost as time spans get shorter and egos get bigger. Lifestyles, memories and knowledge have now become interchangeable and the online culture means that your past (along with everyone else’s) is now available online. The cartoon you watched as a child is now available on YouTube and that question that had you stumped is only just a Google search away. Everything is instantaneous and we want it now, and with very little effort – be that the song you like or the career you crave.
Baumbach’s portrays this implosion of time, technology and culture through two very different sets of married couples – 40-something Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) and 20-something Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Josh is a documentary filmmaker who has been working on his latest film for almost a decade. This career paralysis has meant that his life has been on hold and time has unwittingly passed him by. He then meets Jamie, a young filmmaker who praises Josh for how his earlier work has influenced his career decision. The pair and their spouses strike up an unlikely friendship and soon the older couple begin to take on many of the traits of their younger friends.
While We’re Young plays like a 21st Century Woody Allen movie. While Woody continues to do his own timeless brand of neurotic crises, Baumbach has been able to tap into the modern era and look at how the hipsters of today treat the fading Generation X. We’ve abandoned the past and embraced the future, moving forward with technology, replacing typewriters with laptops and vinyl and CDs with MPS. However, the younger generation is fascinated by these relics which were all but extinct by the time they were born (or at least aware of them). Jamie takes pride in how he buys VHS on Ebay and gets excited at not knowing the answer to a question simply because it’s too easy to check the answer on your phone. People like Josh and Cornelia have been there, done that and bought the ironic T-shirt. VHS and struggling for an answer to a question you didn’t know wasn’t a novelty – it was a way of life.
Ben Stiller is an actor who has been caught-up in the machine cycle which captures a lot of comedic actors. Hollywood pigeon-holes them into family friendly comedies and they slowly lose the spark that made them so successful in the first place. Here, he’s near perfect as Josh, the bumbling man-child who finally feels like he belongs. However Baumbach let’s us know that you can never really grow up, that you’ll continue to have the same insecurities that you always had. On the flipside, you can never grow young again. You live and experience the past, the present and the future.
Adam Driver also succeeds as Jamie, the man who seduces Josh with his seemingly effortless cool, but appearances deceive and Adam turns out to be just as clueless as Josh, but he works harder at hiding it. It’s a strong role and while Driver is ultimately the antagonist of the piece, it’s difficult to not get swept-up by his charm. Meanwhile Watts and Seyfried work well with their on-screen husbands, the more calming influences to the men driven by their own self-interests. Charles Grodin also makes an appearance as Watts’ father and Stiller’s mentor who sees Driver’s character as a new force in documentary filmmaking.
A perfectly realised indie comedy, While We’re Young has a splendid script and top notch performances. Noah Baumbach’s film comes highly recommended for being culturally astute, while also managing to be highly entertaining.