One way to think about While We’re Young is to think of it as the arthouse version of Neighbors. Like that hit from 2014, While We’re Young is a comedy that derives much of its humor from a generation gap. In this case, the middle aged couple consists of Josh (Ben Stiller), a documentary director whose previous success is overshadowed by the ten-year production time making his second feature, and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), his producer. The couple has decided they have no interest in having a child, which finds them growing detached from their current group of friends. Enter Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a hipster couple with whom Josh and Cornelia instantly bond. That is, until it becomes clear that Jamie’s particular method of building his own brand as a director is an affront to Josh’s way of thinking.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach continues on the path he’s established with Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale in offering comedies that focus on neurotic adults, though While We’re Young softens the target here. The neuroses of Josh and Cornelia are worthy subjects of Baumbach’s barbed words, but so are the machinations of Jamie and Darby. And just when the film seems like it’s setting itself up for a predictable ending, Baumbach is able to twist the plot enough to throw the audience off-balance.
Baumbach is aided by the stellar cast he’s assembled here, which may be one of his overall best. Stiller plays a variation of his titular character from Greenberg, with just a bit more grounding. Watts makes for a great scene partner with Stiller, whether it requires coming close to or going far from whatever Stiller has to do in a particular scene. The biggest scene stealer, though, is Driver, whose hipster character stays just inside the limits of believability. He appears authentic, and yet just exaggerated enough to work as a comic character.
Where the film falters slightly is when it takes on the documentary format. The film attempts to make a statement on what is morally acceptable for the format, which has become arguably blurred in recent years. I say “attempts,” because the film never quite lands on a particular argument to make, let alone actually make the argument. There are certainly ethical boundaries that are crossed, but the film doesn’t seem to know whether these breaches are all that problematic.
That’s the biggest thing resembling a flaw in an otherwise smart entry in Baumbach’s filmography. It’s one of the most fun films he’s created, even with its occasionally caustic fights and speeches. It’s also firmly in keeping with its creator’s voice – that authentic something that the characters here keep chasing after.