Often Hollywood produces dramas with interesting premises, solid plots, and featuring good actors, that fall flat regardless. These films have promising foundations that, honestly, would have been carried through much better if they’d been filmed in Europe. American films simply struggle with honest, ‘real life’ examination that doesn’t ring hollow.
One such film is writer/director Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young. The stagnant lives of 40-something couple, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), are shaken up when they meet and befriend a 20-something couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried).
Josh and Cornelia are struggling to connect with friends their own age, all of whom are consumed by parenthood. Cornelia puts up a front that she doesn’t want children, but it’s revealed that she’s tried and failed to get pregnant several times in the past. The couple spout clichéd excuses like being able to travel on a whim (which they haven’t done for years). Josh’s justification, “We have the freedom. What we do with it isn’t important”, is weak.
Josh’s career as a documentary film-maker has also all but ground to a halt; he’s spent the past eight years unsuccessfully trying to finish a high-brow film no one understands.
When Jamie, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and his wife Darby, arrive, they breathe fresh air into Cornelia and Josh’s lives. The older couple are fascinated by the hipster lifestyle. Jamie has a massive vinyl collection, and works on an old-fashioned typewriter. The young couple’s flat is filled with crocheted blankets, and rescued furniture, while Darby (of course) makes ice cream using things like avocado and almond milk. A scene that is truly funny, comes when Cornelia and Josh are persuaded to take part in a shaman-led ceremony, in which they drink hallucinogenic substances to vomit out and purge their problems, while listening to Vangelis. The hipsters shun the smart phones the older couple are attached to, touting a lifestyle that is full of ‘energy’, and connected to apparently ‘authentic’ experiences.
When Josh offers to help Jamie make a documentary, the friendship looks cemented. But soon it emerges that Jamie and Darby aren’t all they seem and the middle-agers become disillusioned with their new BBF’s. Josh is irritated that Jamie never offers to pay the bill at restaurants, and infuriated when his protégé happily twists the truth in order get the film he wants. The bohemians are exposed as entitled brats, and Josh and Cornelia realise their dull lives are in fact more genuine and ‘real’ than they thought.
While We’re Young has some moments of real honesty but at other times, is a bit obvious. The ridicule of the hipster culture has some humour but is over simplified. The film’s message, that young people are shallow, selfish, and insincere, compared to those who are older and ‘wiser’, is unsubtle. None of the actors performed badly, it is the triteness of Baumbach’s approach that lets them down.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that midway through the film, I became distracted by clickbait, mirroring Josh and Cornelia’s addiction to their smart phones.
While We’re Young is an above average film that has promise but falters along the way.
Director & writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
Rating: 3 out of 5
While We’re Young releases in South Africa on 17 July 2015.