An Age Range of Human Conditions in ‘While We’re Young’

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – We’re born, we’re nurtured, we seek purpose and we die. In between there are a million decisions between the words of that opening sentence, and writer/director Noah Baumbach understands that intuitively in his great new film, “While We’re Young.”

Utilizing two married couples at different points in their lives, Baumbach shapes a story that is more that a midlife crisis for a fortysomething couple, and maneuvers toward different paths in both ends of that couple spectrum. Like Baumbach did in the film ‘Greenberg,’ he gives a role to Ben Stiller that plays into the actor’s strengths, without devolving into what makes Stiller annoying. The casting is very precise, with hot actor Adam Driver the anchor for many of the situations. You can’t go home again, especially if the “home” is youth, because it’s difficult to repeat being 25 years old if your life experience knows better.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in their forties, and childless. They are best friends with a couple who has had their first baby, and because of the birth the common interests between them begin to wane. At the same time, a married couple in their twenties – Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) – come into Josh and Cornelia’s lives. The spark of energy that these free spirits put into the older couple is immediate.

Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller
Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Josh (Ben Stiller) in ‘While We’re Young’
Photo credit: A24

Josh is a documentary filmmaker, and finds out that Jamie also dabbles in that form. Josh has been working on a project for years, while Jamie finds some legs on his film and starts to surpass Josh. This also reopens a rift between Josh and his filmmaker father-in-law Leslie (Charles Grodin), and starts to affect the relationship between Josh and his wife. The clash of the generations becomes personal, and life changing for all.

What feels good about this film is that Baumbach is not trying to pass judgement on any of the characters, he is just setting up a scenario that is playing out everywhere in America. Because of the influx of technology and the schooling that is necessary to understand that tech, younger workers are finding themselves interacting with greater numbers of older colleagues on an equal level. It’s framed as sort of a midlife crisis for Josh, but later it becomes more of a compass that directs all of the characters to their next phases. The story is a weigh station.

Another admirable quality is Baumbach’s instinct for casting. He told that he wrote the film with Ben Stiller in mind after working with him on “Greenberg,” but the rest of the cast is as strong. Adam Driver (“Girls”) is becoming a necessary go-to as a goofy, free spirited and sometimes selfish representative for his generation, and he does it with such charm that it’s impossible not to like him. Naomi Watts creates a character so succinctly that we almost understand Cornelia from the first shot, and then as she moves forward in the scenario.

The highest praise is for the casting of Charles Grodin as a presumed legendary documentary maker Leslie Breitbart, and Josh’s father-in-law. We are not privy to the confrontation that was the origin of their grudge, but it seethes below the surface every time Josh encounters Leslie. The twist is that Leslie has moved on from whatever the problem was, and projects a calmness and cool wisdom in the center of the story’s dynamic. Grodin is one of the great underrated actors of the 1970s, and he maintains a delicacy with his character that shows the old pro still has a formidable presence. He was marvelous.

Adam Driver, Ben Stiller
Jamie (Adam Driver) and Josh Share a Moment in ‘While We’re Young’
Photo credit: A24

The conclusion of the film is up for debate. What does satisfaction mean in our life style and what does it entail? The end of the film takes a point of view on that, perhaps only to focus on the last joke. But while Josh and Cornelia do get a redemption of sorts, the quality of that redemption depends on something that maybe they’d already left behind. That is why good stories, and their results, are endlessly fascinating.

I related to Josh. I too love the energy, the equality, and the highly educated minds of the current generation, that are now in their twenties. They interact with technology so smoothly and they think outside the box, and yet where they converge with everyone else is the quest for human connection. Those lessons need to be experienced rather than taught, and is ongoing from your twenties onward.

“While We’re Young” continues its limited release in Chicago on April 3rd. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watt, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Dree Hemingway, Charles Grodin and Peter Yarrow. Written by directed by Noah Baumbach. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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