While We’re Young (2014)

A drama-comedy that tells us painful truths about growing up (and old) through the kind of offbeat comedy that writer-director Noah Baumbach is synonymous with.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Noah Baumbach
2014 | USA | Comedy/Drama | 97 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for language

Cast:  Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
Plot: A middle-aged couple’s career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
Source: A24

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 3 Apr 2015
Spoilers: No

I love Vangelis.  His music is brilliant, earthly yet otherworldly.  In While We’re Young, two tracks of his were played by a character playing a shaman-like figure whose cult ritual involves getting everyone to puke in a tub. 

At the start of the movie, Ben Stiller playing a documentary filmmaking instructor quotes Jean-Luc Godard.  Through the course of this latest flick by Noah Baumbach, many other filmmakers and film theories are referenced, including Eisenstein, putting  “Citizen Kane” and “The Goonies” together in the same line, and a bit on “Rosemary’s Baby”.  As a cinephile, I gleefully lap up these references, which would be lost in mainstream audiences. 

Starring Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, While We’re Young operates on the strength of Baumbach’s oddly amusing script.  The performances range from plain subtlety to over(re)acting, but all within a kind of serious yet curiously humourous tone that the director has established. 

Some of the dramatic (or comedic) situations appear awkward, and yes, the humour is dependent on such awkwardness, but the overall handling of tone is rather sharp. 

“For the first time in my life I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.”

Like Greenberg (2010), While We’re Young may not be thoroughly engaging; there are some parts where the drama and comedy meander, to some extent that they don’t quite fulfill any purpose other than to fill time. 

That’s not to say that it is a flaw, because if both films are any indicator of the writing style of Baumbach, I would like to think that they help to temper the film down, much like a sensor keeping a truck’s speed in check.

I think it is not particularly liberating to explore the painful truths about growing up through comedy or drama alone.  Baumbach understands this, and succeeds to some extent in creating a sort of hymn to life, in idiosyncratic ways finding the old in new, and the new in old. 

In the end, we are blessed by a film that has fun with its material, and invites us to do so as well. The disclaimer is that Baumbach’s work might feel too offbeat and unexpectedly stimulating for those expecting a little more Ben Stiller-ish comedy, and fewer witticisms about life, growing up, growing old, being young, and everything in between.

Grade: B



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