Thursday, April 23, 2015

While We're Young

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (Noah Baumbach, 2014)

Each generation tends to look at the next one with some suspicion that they don’t live up to the standards they hold dear. As the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young. With Generation X in middle age, the time has come for them--us, in my case--to judge the habits, interests, and attitudes of millenials. In WHILE WE’RE YOUNG 44-year-old documentarian Josh (Ben Stiller) and his 43-year-old producer wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) strike up a friendship with 25-year-old couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Josh and Cornelia are childless and feeling increasingly alienated from their friends because of it, so they are drawn to the burgeoning filmmaker husband and his ice cream-making wife. Josh is especially taken with Jamie’s relentless optimism, DIY ethos, and unconstrained tastes and tries them on for size.

Writer-director Noah Baumbach opens WHILE WE’RE YOUNG with a passage from Ibsen’s THE MASTER BUILDER about being fearful of young people outside but encouraged to open the door followed by James Murphy’s toy box-sounding cover of David Bowie’s “Golden Years”. The film ends with the Bowie original and Wings’ “Let ‘Em In” on the soundtrack. The quotation and songs provide mirror bookends representing the aspirations Josh and Cornelia examine when faced with younger adults’ ways. Are they serious and cultured or sentimental and domesticized? When discussing their lives early in the film, Josh says, “Maybe the point is we have the freedom. What we do with it isn’t so important.” The pointed comedy of the comment is that the freedom they profess to cherish is really just a wasted resource they cling to rather than admit they’ve entered another time in their lives.

Baumbach mines the humor in the resistance to adapting to a new life stage, the foolishness of trying to act younger, and the perceived ridiculousness of how millenials assert their independence and preferences. Editor Jennifer Lame cuts Cornelia attending a mommy and me music class as if she’s entered a house of horrors. Josh suffers the indignity of looking older than he is by borrowing today’s youth fashion as if it suits him. WHILE WE’RE YOUNG practically drips contempt for what twentysomethings consider cool. Baumbach obliterates some easy targets, but the film is no less funny because of it.

Driver’s embodiment of a stereotypical hipster is a consistent source of jokes. After Josh’s infatuation with Jamie has ended, he describes his counterpart as imitating a sincere person he once saw. Baumbach doesn’t withhold any criticism of a younger generation he thinks can be vacuous and disingenuous, yet he doesn’t spare those in middle age. Where Jamie lacks boundaries and hides his careerism, Josh prizes the purist notion of not selling out and retaining authenticity, which are fine ideals until they become stifling to the point of inaction. WHILE WE’RE YOUNG soaks in the bitter comedy that comes in realizing that everyone is searching for answers.

Grade: B+

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