Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in a bit of a funk. Josh, a documentary filmmaker, has been struggling on the same project for years while Cornelia feels like her life is stuck in repeat. When their closest friends have a baby this prompts a spark in their lives where they decide to cling onto their youth instead of letting old age and maturity drag them down. Enter Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) a young, hip couple who may be the figurative fountain of youth Josh and Cornelia are looking for.
What makes Baumbach’s latest so enjoyable, as like his previous films, are the characters. Her creates films in which they are key, not only to the narrative but the mood of the piece, and “While We’re Young” is no exception. The film acts as a sort of melting pot of his previous two films, combining the lighthearted nature of “Frances Ha” and the driving force of character emotions behind “Greenberg”.
At the heart of the characters in Stiller’s performance as Josh which he executes brilliantly. At times hilariously innocent while at other times petulant and bitter, he manages to pull off this tightrope walk of a performance with the utmost grace, allowing the audience to believe the swings in his characters emotions and for the most part (although not always) sympathize with him when it’s required. Countering this perfectly is the steadfast and assured nature that Adam Driver imbues Jamie with, a character that is equal parts charming and punchable. In a role that could have been simply boiled down to a lesser, put upon wife persona Watts achieves with Cornelia an uneasy confidence that establishes her as a woman who, despite where her life takes it, will face anything that comes her way. The real treat of the film though comes in the return of Charles Grodin as Cornelia’s father, an aging documentary filmmaker that serves as mentor and combative father figure for the struggling Josh. The fatherly nature that Grodin radiates while on screen in a welcome sight for cinema-goers who have felt his presence missed for years.
While Baumbach manages to paint himself into a corner slightly with the narrative he creates for his characters, he never manages to lose the interest of the audience. This is due, in large part to, the lighthearted nature of the whole scenario. By creating this lighter mood in the first half of the film he establishes good will in the audience who, in turn, are willing to follow the characters wherever the arising conflicts may take them. At its core “While We’re Young” is a film of dualities, old vs. young, right vs. wrong, fact vs. fiction, the only problem is for a film that has so much to say about all this aspects, it doesn’t quite decide on what it’s trying to say as a whole which leaves the audience, while thoroughly entertained, a little empty.
While it never hits the emotional peaks achieved in “The Squid and The Whale” or captures the carefree nature of “Frances Ha”, “While We’re Young” does manage to craft a gratifying narrative that is hoisted by the entertaining characters at it’s core and an overall wholly enjoyable experience.
7.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Chris Swan.