In admirably sticking to his guns, Baumbach’s latest slice of incisively observational serio-comedy shines the spotlight on a married couple’s joint midlife crisis. Spurred by their fascination with an archetypal hipster couple nearly half their age, Josh (Ben Stiller) – a documentarian – and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) find themselves envying and subsequently adapting the youngsters’ lifestyle quips and quirks – if only out of an unhealthy longing for what they think they’ve missed out on. What seems at first like a mutual match made in heaven, said hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) transition from harmless and amiable stereotypes to toxic as the former’s documentary film project remains an indefinite hindrance to Josh’s stagnant latest endeavor. As details surface and the rabbit hole deepens, it’s up to Josh and Cornelia to revert back to aging responsibly or remain steadfast in their newfound pursuit of arrested mid-adulthood.
It goes without saying that admirers of or those familiar with Baumbach’s previous work will find a lot to like here. Although it walks an avenue comparable to 2010’s Greenberg by way of thematic resonance, the timely implementation of ever-expanding hipster culture is quite admirable as a sort of conflictual impetus. While We’re Young infuses Jamie and Darby’s generational allure with well-informed subcultural tropes, i.e. misguided self-employment and making the old new again a la fedoras and vinyl records. Depending on your opinion of these types, the characters in question may or may not prove unbearable despite their purposefully being rendered so. Either way, the palpable devolution of Josh and Cornelia leads them down some very interesting avenues that breed an altogether involving experience.
While We’re Young also sports Baumbach’s penchant for insight and wit over anything particularly dense or melodramatic. The film’s sense of humor is intelligent and entirely effective and the conclusive epiphanies satisfying if familiar, all the while banking solely on the audience’s feelings toward the individuals on display. Josh and Cornelia’s downward spiral into childless abandon does ring authentic however, even if it all amounts to the same amount of intermittent self-loathing and discovery present within nearly all of Baumbach’s struggling central characters.
For those not turned off by the simplicity of While We’re Young‘s cross-generational commentary, the film sports enough intelligence, humor and intrigue by way of its third act narrative shift to keep things entertaining. It’s not so much a step forward for Baumbach as it is spinning his personal brand of character-driven filmmaking in a noticeably nuanced manner. As flaccid and devoid of cautionary commentary its final resolution is, While We’re Young is a solidly crafted portrait of a couple struggling to age gracefully.