Reviewed for Empire as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015:
Do you ever spend time with people who are noticeably younger than you? If so, are any of them partial to the kind of tightly fitting jeans that resemble denim-coloured leggings? Being honest, does their company tend to make you feel relatively old or depressingly uncool? For those who answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, there’s a good chance that you’ll find plenty to enjoy in While We’re Young, a funny, perceptive, well-observed comedy-drama that pokes fun at hipster culture while exploring middle-age anxieties.
Dealing with said anxieties are Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a forty-something couple who are unable to have kids. Both claim to enjoy the freedom that comes with this situation, but they rarely — if ever — take advantage of it, leading lives that have become somewhat stagnant and unadventurous. Josh used to be a promising documentary filmmaker, but he’s spent the last decade on the same project. According to his father-in-law (played by the always welcome Charles Grodin), it’s a “six-and-a-half-hour film that’s seven hours too long”.
Everything changes, however, when Josh befriends Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a free-spirited couple in their mid-twenties. Confident, outgoing and spontaneous, they’re the type of painfully hip youngsters who are always looking for new experiences. Before long, Jamie and Darby’s spontaneity is rubbing off on Josh and Cornelia, who find themselves doing certain things (buying ‘trendy’ hats, attending hip-hop dance lessons) in order to prove that they’re down with the kids.
All of this plays out in a way that is both insightful and amusing. Above all, While We’re Young is a film about reaching a certain point in life — the point where you are forced to confront the reality that you are getting old. At the same time, however, writer-director Noah Baumbach has plenty of fun along the way, especially when it comes to the generation gap that forms when the two couples become fast friends. At one stage, Jamie uses Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger to help make sure that Josh is psyched up for an important meeting. In response, Josh says that he remembers when the now-iconic track was merely considered as a bad song.
Moments like this are scattered throughout, along with a number of witty exchanges that should prompt knowing laughs from viewers of a certain age. “You have arthritis in your knee.” states Josh’s doctor during an examination. “Arthritis, arthritis?” enquires Josh. “Yes. I usually just say it once.” answers the doc. If any prospective viewers aren’t sure what to expect from Baumbach’s latest, imagine the thought of Woody Allen directing This Is 40 — by way of Bad Neighbours — during his prime.
The film isn’t perfect, of course. Amanda Seyfried is given less to do than the other leads — all of whom are terrific — while a farcical group-vomiting sequence feels like it belongs in a slightly broader comedy. Scenes like this are easy to forgive, however, given that While We’re Young is Baumbach’s most accessible, crowd-pleasing feature to date. Indeed, if you like his style but feel that some of his films are too caustic for their own good, this should be just what the doctor ordered.