“He’s not evil…he’s just young.”
To watch While We’re Young is the equivalent of spending an hour and a half at a craps table, unironically partaking in a total and utter crapshoot. Some of this film, especially the first 45 minutes, contains the most honest and realistically drawn characters populating the most real life situations that I have seen so far this year. As for the rest of it? It never hits the lucky number 7 or 11, and most of the time forgets to let a die fly from its hand and onto the table in the first place. I find myself constantly saying this about Noah Baumbach’s filmography, save for Frances Ha, which is one of the absolute best independent films released in the past five years (It’s on Netflix…watch it). While We’re Young is observant, yet rarely patient, forcefully developing the people we come to know in ways that disrespect them and the story at hand. You’ll want to love it. But much like the maturation process, you’ll find it starts with a vibrancy, only to succumb to the inevitable banal.
While their friends have kids and talk nonsense and turn in early, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Josh (Ben Stiller) remain young at heart. Not that they haven’t tried to grow up. Josh has worked on the same documentary for 10 years. Meanwhile, Cornelia has submitted to the likelihood that she won’t have children after multiple miscarriages. They are stuck, prematurely entering a midlife crisis of waxing and waning through the high-rise apartments and sidewalk stories of New York City. That’s until the effervescent Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) burst into their lives. The twenty-somethings sneak into one of Josh’s few classes at the University and strike up a matchbox conversation, leading to dinner and a regressive train of thought for the older and supposedly more mature couple. Their interactions, sentiments, and overall chemistry is pure magic. Rarely do films show this much promise.
The problem is, while we are sitting there figuring out these core four, the Director/Writer Baumbach cheats us by having his fingers crossed behind his back. Sometimes I’m baffled, and here literally left scratching my head, wondering what the filmmakers were thinking. It’d be like a sniper zeroing in on their target, calculating for wind and distance and every variable to get the perfect shot, then saying, “screw it!” and shooting 100 feet to the conservative left. Except this isn’t conservative. It’s not even out of left field. If this was AT&T Ballpark, it’d find itself sitting in a kayak, with no paddle, trying to make its way to the home run ball it hit in the first inning. The film recognizes that youth is fleeting and that time is our most precious resource, but the story never fulfills the initial conceit. Like a good marriage turned sour, While We’re Young becomes lazy, readily picking out the first card on the chain grocery store’s shelf, throwing in a semi-thoughtful gift card, and placing the hallmark sticker on the outside of the envelope. Not all that glitters is gold.
The movie itself is a cheap and gilded hodgepodge of sheeny smarts and refurbished folly. The originality subsides to a CPR onslaught of compressions to the chest reassuring that we’re still awake, that we’re still young. The acting is good, especially Driver and Watts. He proves he is the real deal while she gives as layered a performance as the uneven script permits. All the while, Baumbach regretfully proves that as a filmmaker, he’s simply uneven. In a way, he’s a lot like Josh, spending a decade to craft his documentary. Baumbach devotes so much time here and such little time there that it’s not cohesive, and shows us once more that his writing doesn’t have the B bridge to link the apex point A and the catastrophic point C. While We’re Young is so different that it’s predictable, and when we know what we’re getting, as often is the case in human nature, you just don’t end up wanting it after the first initial bite.
“How are we gonna get old? I think the answer is; just like everyone else.”
Rating: 3 out of 5