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While We're Young Movie Review

While We're Young (2015) movie poster While We're Young

Theatrical Release: March 27, 2015 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Ben Stiller (Josh), Naomi Watts (Cornelia), Adam Driver (Jamie), Amanda Seyfried (Darby), Charles Grodin (Leslie Breitbart), Adam Horovitz (Fletcher), Maria Dizzia (Marina), Peter Yarrow (Ira), Brady Corbet (Kent)


For quite some time, Noah Baumbach has been one of the sharpest storytellers in independent film. While We're Young is the eighth feature Baumbach has both written and directed. It seems poised to follow in the footsteps of the filmmaker's past efforts like Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale, and Greenberg.
All of those won over critics, but played in just a few hundred theaters before dividing the general public who'd later discover them.

While We're Young stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a middle-aged New York married couple. Josh (Stiller), 44, is a documentarian. Cornelia (Watts) occasionally produces others' documentaries. All their friends are becoming parents and finding their lives taken over by that calling. Josh and Cornelia tried to conceive, but two miscarriages later, they've sort of given up. One night at a continuing education class he teaches, Josh is approached by Jamie (Adam Driver), who voices admiration for one of Josh's few finished documentaries, which he bought off eBay. The 25-year-old Jamie and his ice cream-making wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) join Josh and Cornelia for dinner and spark up an instant friendship.

Josh is wowed that someone knows and appreciates his work. He's also bowled over by the young couple's infectious enthusiasm. Despite the age gap, Jamie and Darby quickly become Josh and Cornelia's go-to couple for socializing. The friendship pulls Josh and Cornelia out of their in-bed-by-11 complacency and reacquaints them with the spontaneity of youth. There are street beach parties, hip-hop dance classes, and even an Ayahuasca ceremony of hallucinogens and cleansing vomits.

New York documentarian Josh (Ben Stiller) roller blades to his father-in-law's tribute in "While We're Young."

Professionally, Josh takes Jamie under his wing, embracing a protιgι and even buying and wearing a fedora just like his. Josh doesn't fully buy into Jamie's documentary idea -- tracking down an old high school friend who submits a Facebook friend request for a filmed candid real life encounter -- but he goes along for the ride and is surprised to see the project take a life of its own, when the subject turns out to be a decorated Army veteran traumatized by his experiences in Afghanistan. Soon, Jamie is sharing a financier, an editor, and a mentor (the still great Charles Grodin, as Cornelia's accomplished documentarian father) with Josh, who has been struggling for close to ten years to finish his own boring high-minded doc.

Baumbach has always drawn from personal experiences to wonderful effect. His debut, Kicking and Screaming (1995), explored issues facing new college grads and was made when he was just 25 and fresh out of Vassar College. Twenty years later, Baumbach's perspective has evolved and so too has the world around him,
but his knack for mining life for comedy and drama remains intact. Young doesn't just uncover honest, witty observations about middle age, but about young adulthood as well, an age Baumbach hasn't forgotten. The director isn't relying purely on his own experiences, either, because he somehow has a deep understanding of what it's like to be in your twenties in 2015. His Frances Ha co-writer/star, Greta Gerwig, may have value in this area; barely out of her twenties, she has been Baumbach's girlfriend since 2011. Though not credited with writing here, Gerwig was attached to the Seyfried role before having to bow out due to scheduling.

Though Baumbach makes narrative films, not documentaries, one certainly detects autobiographical elements in this film: the 45-year-old auteur is a childless New Yorker. In interviews, though, he's confessed to identifying more with Jamie, the film's hungry young go-getter.

Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is the only one without a baby at this infant music class.

The movie is at its best early on when it has fun pointing out the ironic differences between its two featured generations. While Josh and Cornelia read books and play games on their tablets and touch phones, Jamie and Cornelia collect vinyl records, watch old movies on VHS, and play board games. The lesson may be that urban hipsters do grow old, conform, and adapt. Baumbach offers characterization over commentary, but entertains with this intergenerational friendship and its power to rejuvenate. Eventually, he fashions a story with conflict and twists. It is poignant, original, and rather unpredictable. Terrific cross-cutting heightens the impact of this and other acts. In fact, the movie gets some of its best laughs out of precise editing.

Consistently funny, cultured, insightful, and capably acted, While We're Young extends Baumbach's winning streak.

Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach: Frances Ha • Greenberg • The Squid and the Whale • Margot at the Wedding
Written by Noah Baumbach: Fantastic Mr. Fox • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Ben Stiller: The Royal Tenenbaums • The Heartbreak Kid | Naomi Watts: St. Vincent • Adore • You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Adam Driver: Inside Llewyn Davis • This Is Where I Leave You | Amanda Seyfried: Chloe • Lovelace • In Time • Dear John
Charles Grodin: The Humbling • The Great Muppet Caper • Ishtar
Now in Theaters: Get Hard • Cinderella • Chappie
Away We Go • Young Adult • Jack Goes Boating • Love Streams

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Reviewed April 3, 2015.

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