While We’re Young

The anxiety of aging

Noah Baumbach’s new film, While We’re Young, is his most mature (no pun intended) and funny film to date. Each of his films (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg and Frances Ha) combine funny dialogue with the painful drama of relationships.

Serious subjects, but the director handles them with such a light touch that we find ourselves laughing at these characters before we realize how much we may resemble them.

While We’re Young opens with a middle-age couple, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), watching over their friends’ baby, trying to calm it by telling fairy tales they can’t remember. Soon we’re awash in dialogue that pokes satirical fun at people’s anxieties and obsessions with parenting, career, and where their lives are heading. Serious subjects, but Baumbach handles them with such a light touch that we find ourselves laughing at these characters before we realize how much we may resemble them

After two miscarriages, Josh and Cornelia have given up having children, and they feel alienated from many of their friends, who are first-time parents. Josh is a documentary filmmaker who has 100 hours of footage recording an old professor lecturing in his home on the meaning of power, though the old man interrupts the filming with calls to his wife or trips to the bathroom. Cornelia is a producer, and her father is a well-known filmmaker. He and Josh don’t get along.

After a lecture Josh gives at a college in New York City, where they live, he meets a young couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie gushes about Josh’s film work and about Cornelia’s father. The two couples go out to eat, and Josh and Cornelia are struck by how carefree the young couple is. Josh especially is attracted to Jamie’s in-the-moment approach to life. Soon they’re spending more and more time with this young couple and ignoring their older friends.

Jamie, who is a budding filmmaker, pitches a film idea to Josh and soon lures him into helping him with it. The film appears to be based on a serendipitous meeting with one of Josh’s high school classmates. Josh, meanwhile, can’t procure funding for his film, while Jamie gets support for his.

Later, Josh discovers that the subject of Jamie’s film is actually Darby’s classmate, and the whole thing was staged. When Josh confronts Jamie about it, Jamie admits it was fabricated but says it’s still a good story. The satirical jabs at filmmaking is one more layer to the story.

While We’re Young performs a delicate balance between satire and drama. In today’s world, where irony reigns, it’s difficult to portray the emotions of a relationship or the anxieties of aging, as when Josh has a bike accident, then learns from the doctor that he has arthritis in his knee. Josh and Cornelia’s relationship is the emotional center of the film, and these two actors carry it off well, again combining laugh-out-loud humor with pathos.

Baumbach’s milieu is usually New York, and his characters are frustrated intellectuals whose skill at relationships is limited. Many of us who watch the film may not fit that profile, yet we will connect with the humanity of the characters and the anxieties they face.


While We’re Young is rated R for language.