While We’re Young

While We're Young

I was really intrigued by the premise of While We’re Young, about a childless couple (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) in their 40s who start hanging out with a couple (Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver) in their 20s. I could emphasize with the situation, where the couples your own age are most excited about their kids, so if you want to do other things, you wind up with younger people who haven’t “settled down” yet, those who have more time and interests. (In our case, because we’re not young, we never made it out while this was in theaters for the two weeks or so it played locally.)

It’s a bit self-indulgent for a filmmaker (Noah Baumbach, writer/director) to make a movie about the mid-life crisis of a movie maker (Stiller’s character makes documentaries), but it’s also authentic to today’s visual culture that everything’s captured and considered a performance. Once we get to know the characters more, it’s revealing in terms of how they portray themselves to others. There’s also a layer of artistic jealousy as the middle-aged no longer finds creation so easy or smooth. Stiller has been working on a particular project for a decade. Exclusion is necessary, both in terms of editing and in-group definition, but painful, particularly to those left on the sidelines.

While We're Young

The younger couple bikes everywhere and fetishizes old technology (like typewriters and record players) and engages in creative pursuits like making their own ice cream flavors. That can be energizing but it can also be tiring. The contrast section, where the older woman is reading the NY Times on her iPad and her husband pulls up something to watch on his AppleTV, while the younger couple makes pencil notes in a paperback and watches a videotape that needs its tracking adjusted, was oddly hilarious. The older couple is seduced by how creative the younger seems, making their own furniture and coming up with creative social ideas, but it requires money to have all the latest tech toys.

I expected the film to be talky, a spiritual successor to Woody Allen’s New York chattering classes, but the montage sequences like this one are what are going to make this film so interesting to watch in future years, as they capture a particular hipster ethos of our time. No one these days thinks of themselves as older, or even as an adult, but life is better (imo) if you accept that gracefully.

Speaking of not doing that, I actually said OMG when I saw Charles Grodin (who plays Watts’ father). I still remember him best from The Great Muppet Caper (1981), but it’s been a long time since then, and what hair he has left is white. It was also an odd coincidence that I watched While We’re Young just after rewatching Wonder Boys, since both feature artists having a hard time coping with the skill and energy of the younger creator after they’ve aged out of their own youthful success. This film adds in a debate about the nature of truth on film and how documentary functions in today’s capture culture.

Just when I was thinking about how the women in this film play second fiddle and aren’t given much to do, Seyfried gets a really meaty scene that puts things in new perspective. The movie changes from low-key realistic to more dramatic, but someone who doesn’t have the patience for your typical art-house talkfest might find that aspect more entertaining. Suffice it to say that youth can also be harsh and heartless, out only for itself. I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly say I liked the movie, but I appreciated watching it, and it certainly started some discussions.

The extras on the disc are minimal, four press-clip-style featurettes, about 2 minutes each, covering:

  • The Cast
  • Director Noah Baumbach
  • Charles Grodin
  • Generation Tech

And two very short behind-the-scenes for particular setups: Ayahuasca Ceremony and Hip Hop Class. (The studio provided a review copy.)

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