While We’re Young tries to be so many things in its 90 minute run time that it’s hard to keep up with it. 45-year-old writer/director Noah Baumbach starts off by bringing us a sharp, wry generation gap comedy – 40-something married couple Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Josh (Ben Stiller), the latter a documentarian struggling to complete his 8-year-old project, meet aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his ice cream concocting wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) and quickly become friends. Josh and Cornelia latch onto the energy of the 20-something hipster couple, with Baumbach playfully poking fun at each couple – and what they represent – along the way. And although all of the actors bring their A-game (with Naomi Watts the stand out), it is this gentle, kid gloves satire that Baumbach employs along with his wide reach of topics that hinders the film.
Not only is While We’re Young trying to say too much about too many things at once, I’m not entirely sure it ever successfully says anything at all. At first its a generation gap comedy (and with a few exceptions, I found it largely unfunny), but Baumbach seems to run out of ideas on that angle rather quickly. Then it becomes, briefly, about mortality and aging and Josh and Cornelia reintroduce the idea of having kids to rejuvenate their lives. Then it becomes about truth and art and process vs. success, for a few minutes? If While We’re Young is successful in saying something it is that someone, somewhere, will always find what you do and who you are to be weird, but I’m not sure that was Baumbach’s intention.
It is also successful as a middling Woody Allen movie. Like Allen’s middling movies, it is rarely laugh out loud funny, rather wryly amusing. In his four leads Baumbach creates a nice dynamic of characters that play off one another very well, each getting witty (and often self-lacerating) dialogue to deliver as they all banter back and forth. Characters don’t self-deprecate in classic Allen fashion, however, but rather Baumbach’s characterizations of them do the brunt of the work, and by the film’s end it is rather clear where the director’s sympathies lie. That said, much of it feels forced. Although Josh and Cornelia are energized, amusingly and absurdly so, by their new friends, this ultimately strains and causes tension within their marriage (hello again, Woody). Unfortunately, the conflict never hits how it should because Baumbach spends so much of the first act being cute and clever, with his soft satire and yellow highlighting of the generational differences of these characters, that Josh and Cornelia’s marriage never feels organic to begin with.
It all comes back to the fact that Baumbach wants the movie to be about something so badly that he occasionally forsakes his characters and their relationships in favor of wit, humor, and theme. I applaud his ambition, but even then, his gentle prodding at our obsession with technology and his clear disdain for fedoras is only ever that – gentle – just like the comedic moments. While We’re Young is amusing, well-acted, breezy, but largely unfocused and unsharpened.
★★★ out of 5