“For the first time in my life I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.”
In the mid 90s, Noah Baumbach was an indie director making thoughtful, little movies that festival type crowds loved, but the mainstream didn’t even know existed. Then he went missing for a few years before reappearing as Wes Anderson’s writing partner on The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. With the help of Anderson as a producer, Baumbach jumped back in the directing ring with the acclaimed The Squid and the Whale, and has been pumping quality, thoughtful, little movies on the regular ever since. The critical, financial and awards pinnacle was a movie I found pretty underwhelming, Frances Ha. But not underwhelming enough to mean I wasn’t stoked to see what he did next, with While We’re Young.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a New York married couple in the early stages of middle age, and they’re starting to feel it. Josh is a successful documentary film maker, but he’s been stuck on his current project for almost a decade. Cornelia is a successful producer in her professional life, but when her best friend (Maria Dizzla as Marina) has a baby, she starts to find her personal life lacking.
After giving a lecture, Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). A young married couple, they represent everything Josh and Cornelia think they’ve lost. Spontaneity, raw ambition, and a total uninhibited abandon when it comes to living their lives and following their whims. At first inspired by the younger couple, it’s clear that solving their problems is a little more complicated than recapturing their youth. Also, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz is there as Marina’s husband and he’s surprisingly great and hilarious.
I’ve liked all of Baumbach’s movies except Frances Ha. So it was great that While We’re Young was a return to form. It also highlights a lot of what I didn’t like about Frances Ha. Greta Gerwig’s titular character in that movie was just so infuriatingly precious, but I think Baumbach loved that character and expected me too as well. Jamie and Darby are also infuriatingly precious, but deliberately so. Because While We’re Young is basically laughing at them and playing them as broadly comedic characters, I could watch these characters all day.
The other thing I really liked about While We’re Young was the state of Josh and Cornelia’s relationship. When I saw trailers or read anything about this movie, I assumed they would just be yet another bored, frustrated couple who only discover they really love each other after one, or both, cheats. But that’s not the case at all. Josh and Cornelia are a little bored and frustrated, but not with each other. They’re bored and frustrated with a lot of the things happening around them, but they love each other and are in this thing together.
In a review for Baumbach’s latest movie, Mistress America, I heard someone refer to him as the modern day Woody Allen. At the time, I didn’t really get it. Sure, he makes talky movies about privileged, neurotic New Yorkers, but the comparison just seemed lazy. But now, after watching While We’re Young, I get it. It’s not the stories about privileged, neurotic New Yorkers, it’s that he captures a version of New York that is obviously so specific and so special to him. And like Woody Allen’s New York, it’s a version of the city that I’m happy to see over and over again.