Forty-Somethings Examine Their Goals: While We're Young
In While We're Young, a couple in their mid-forties starts to re-examine their lives when they make the acquaintance of a younger couple. Josh Sreeback (Ben Stiller) is a film teacher and documentarian in New York who gets curious when Jamie Massey (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amada Seyfried) quietly crash one of his classes. Jamie aspires to be a documentarian himself, and admires the one film Josh has made, while Darby makes and sells homemade ice cream. Jamie pitches a general idea for a film to Josh, who advises Jamie this project should have a specific focus. When they meet another time, Josh offers to help if Jamie moves forward with his film. Josh's wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts), who's with them, considers producing the film. The two couples start spending more time together, and the younger couple has the plder one thinking young again.
This new friendship comes at a time when Josh and Cornelia start seeing less of longtime friends Marina (Maria Dizzia) and her husband Fletcher (Adam Horovitz). While Josh and Cornelia have been unsuccessful at starting a family, Marina and Fletcher have become first-time parents, and started to bond with their daughter and the other new parents they've met. They also have a hard time understanding why they'd want to spend time with a couple half their age. At a retreat where Josh, Jamie, Cornelia, and Darby attend, they drink a potion that acts as a hallucinogen and an expectorant, leading to some uncharacteristic behavior by all of them. While Josh struggles to get funding to complete his second film, which he's been working on for years, Jamie gets the money to make a movie about the first old high school classmate who connects with him on Facebook. That person is Kent (Brady Corbet), a war veteran who's had issues stemming from his combat experiences. As Josh watches the footage he helped Jamie shoot, he notices something that makes Josh think Jamie staged this meeting with Kent. Josh turns to his father-in-law, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), a celebrated documentarian himself, for advice on Jamie, as well as his own film.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach has made a series of films about people or couples who struggle with problems and changes. While We're Young starts and finishes as a lighthearted look at these changes, but gets a little too heavy toward the climax, as issues of distance, infidelity and dishonesty are raised. The movie works best when these couples learn or rediscover truths about themselves in the routine situations of their day. I know the story with Josh and Cordelia's problems with having a child are serious business, but a couple nearing 45, as these two are, should have been written as more philosophical to keep with the overall tone of the movie. The story of two generations bonding through a common interest is a good one, though.
Stiller gives an interesting performance as Josh, a teacher who doesn't live by his own advice as a filmmaker. He tells Jamie to focus, yet he's made a film that doesn't have one. Josh believes a documentary should be made a certain way, yet Jamie doesn't follow Josh's conventions for making a movie. He wants to try to start a family again with Cordelia, but she doubts it's worth the efforts they had to make. Watts does nice work as the realist to Josh's idealist. She wants a baby, too, but being with Marina and her daughter proves to sometimes be too much for Cordelia to handle. Driver is very good in support as Jamie, a young filmmaker who quietly concocts a plan to get attention for his film. Seyfried matches Driver as Darby, his supportive wife. Good work in smaller roles comes from Grodin, Dizzia, and Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys). Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, & Mary fame also appears as the man who provides Josh with a lot of information for his work.
People get some idea of their plans for life, knowing they won't get everything they want. Josh Sreeback where he sees key goals slipping away, and finding he can't seem to stop what's happening around him. As he and his wife head toward middle age, they they must accept they're reaching a crossroads, and they need to readjust their priorities. While We're Young gives them a chance to remember what it was like to be younger while reminding them they can no longer consider themselves young adults.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give While We're Young three stars. Youth doesn't last forever, even in the mind.