While We’re Young

While

* * * 1/2

Where are you in life versus where you thought you would be? Or perhaps where the world says you are supposed to be? Noah Baumbach’s refreshing While We’re Young is an Allen-esque, sidewalks of New York comedy, but one that sparkles with insights all its own on growing up and apart, marital ennui and multi-generational dynamics in the outer boroughs.

Headlining this ode to the mutual exclusivity of age and maturity, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are forty-something, married Brooklynites about to hit a midlife crisis, and in a big way.  He’s a frustrated, part-time film teacher and documentarian stuck on a pretentious project, eight years in the making; she’s the producer and daughter of renowned documentarian, played by Charles Grodin with a disciplined blend of refined humor and artsy, elite urbanity.

Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts, sympathetic as ever) have a lovely enough Park Slope condo, good friends and enough of a comfort level to skillfully not touch each other—at all—when entering and exiting their cramped bathroom.  Unlike their peer group, they do not have children (not for lack of trying), privately trumpeting their freedom (“We can leave right now and go on vacation”), couched in that too-comfortable couples camaraderie of early bedtimes and goodnights consisting of discussions on light bulb wattage.

Enter hipster twenty-five-year-olds Jamie (Adam Driver, an acquired taste) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young married couple from Williamsburg that turns up for one Josh’s hapless doc classes before ingratiating themselves with the frustrated couple. Jamie (the ubiquitous Adam Driver) is a wannabe doc filmmaker himself, and before long the quartet becomes fast friends, which consists of retro-fitting Josh with a fedora, taking pleasure in all things vinyl and analog and regressing to a state before mortgages and fertility clinics. It also means collaborating on Jamie’s new documentary, something that doesn’t come naturally for Josh, yet smitten with the younger, hipper version of himself, he goes all in, until he discovers some radical ideological differences between them.

A smart satirist, Baumbach skewers both generations’ rituals, from overzealous devotion to the “baby cult” of Wiggles-esque music classes (which send childless Cornelia into comic hyperventilation) to an idiotic Ayahuasca ceremony complete with mass vomiting and a bogus shaman. And while this is all good fun, at heart While We’re Young is about the shock of self-awareness in your forties and profound disillusionment with where you’ve landed.

While We’re Young raises questions about the impossibility of recapturing youth and the loyalty of friends and spouses, and there’s an effective examination of truth in art versus cynical manipulation and craven opportunism, culminating in tragicomic anti-climax that finds unprincipled Jamie on the verge of stardom while no one—not even Cornelia—remains in hapless Josh’s corner, a classic Ben Stiller sequence involving real pathos is its dissolution of the Jamie-Josh bromance.

The picture slips a bit in its final scene by suggesting a full-circle return to adulthood, whatever that is, though the final point about yet another evolving generation is a zinger.

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