Life, we understand, is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. None of those plans includes ageing — not the brutal onset of old age, but the casual creeping up of the middle years. One day, just when you think you have finally caught up, you realise there are faster, younger, better-looking people in the race.
Of course you know by now which section of the race this piece is coming from. ‘While We’re Young’ though knows better. A delightful and witty comedy, it warmly embraces the likes of us while gently treating those others, ribbing both and mocking none.
Josh and Cornelia (Stiller, Watts) are your average, modestly successful, even immoderately happy early-40s New York couple. Their artistic ambitions (he has made one well-received documentary film and is 10 years into another, she is a producer and the daughter of a celebrated filmmaker) allow the couple to ignore the gnawing fact that their own friends have moved on into largely uncomplaining parenthood. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Josh and Caroline have decided they are better off without a child.
Enter Jamie and Darby (Driver, Seyfried) into their lives. They are in their 20s, not averse to having children already, and with artistic hopes of own. A budding filmmaker, Jamie “idolises” Josh. Darby makes ice-cream, only the exotic flavours. They live in one of those shabby NY attics that are gloriously free-spirited within, and Jamie not only has a ceiling-to-floor vinyl record collection, he works on a typewriter, and builds own desks. Jamie also doesn’t Facebook, watches VHS tapes of old shows, and doesn’t believe in Googling instantly for trivia. “Let us not know it,” he says in a way that makes so much more sense coming from others.
Their presence makes Josh and Caroline almost guilty about how they live — on Netflix and social network, tablets and phones — and about the cynicism they have grown into. Talking about Jamie’s movie collection, an overwhelmed Josh exclaims, “He doesn’t distinguish between high and low!” A more sceptical Cornelia can’t help noticing, “All the things that we once threw out they have. And somehow they look so much better with them.” The “generosity” of Jamie and Darby is a constant surprise to the two elders.
Writer-director Baumbach, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker with a similar film such as Greenberg (also starring Stiller) behind him as well as other acclaimed ones such as The Squid and the Whale, handles this part with aplomb. Josh and Cornelia find themselves splashing about in the middle, drifting sometimes to old friends (including a couple played by Dizzia and Beastie Boys’ Horovitz) and other days to the luminous other side where Jamie and Darby beckon. They fit in everywhere and nowhere — which is scarier than an either/or.
With two characters filmmakers, it is not difficult to predict how While We’re Young will proceed, and it does run away with its verbosity in the end, limping in a very crucial scene. However, Baumbach surprises in not making villains of anyone, only underlining that the winners of life’s race are people willing to change for the long run. Even take Cornelia (a superlative Watts), for example.
Life, we understand, is also a marathon.
Still, one point. Baumbach said in an interview that while writing the movie, he had fun with the idea that “It’s always a surprise when you realise you’re not the youngest person in the room any more.” It’s always a pleasure, though, to know you are not the oldest.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Star Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Maria Dizzia, Adam Horovitz