The writer and director Noah Baumbach’s collaboration with Ben Stiller, which began with 2010’s Greenberg, continues with While We’re Young. In Greenberg, Stiller played a prickly fortysomething who starts an affair with a younger woman; here he plays another fortysomething who is similarly smitten by a youthful protagonist. Both films are preoccupied with the pull of youth and the challenges of aging; but while Greenberg was quite a sad comedy about missed opportunities and personal failure, While We’re Young is often played for broader laughs: it’s less Woody Allen and more Judd Apatow, perhaps.
Stiller and Naomi Watts play documentary filmmakers whose marriage is significantly altered by a new friendship with a twentysomething couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Josh (Stiller), who has spent eight years working on a sprawling, unfocussed film project, is flattered by the attention of Jamie (Driver), who presents himself as a fan of Josh’s early work. Jamie and his wife, Darby (Seyfrield), are loft-dwelling hipsters whose retro embrace of vinyl, board games, typewriters and a VHS collection is wittily contrasted with the older couple’s reliance on current technology.
One of the best scenes in Greenberg found Stiller’s character attending a house party with a much younger demographic. “You’re so sincere and interested in things,” he cooed, while championing Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” as the perfect cocaine song. This difficult, often cringeworthy courtship between the generations is very much the crux of While We’re Young.
Incidentally, Stiller, Watts and Driver are all terrific; though unusually for such a strong writer of female characters, Baumbach slightly undersells Seyfrield’s crticial role in the film. The dynamic between Stiller and Watts, especially, is strong: he is tightly wound and neurotic, while she is much looser. It’s Watts’ best work for a while. Props, too, to Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz, who plays one half of Stiller and Watts’ baby-obsessed best friends.
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