While We’re Young is a kaleidoscope of ideas about age,adulthood,youthful vibrancy and mid-life crises. In trying to flesh all of the issues in one movie, Noah Baumbach ends a rather cohesive film with a confusing message. Despite it’s rather ‘off’ end, While We’re Young is still no less, a film that makes the rather unspirited theme of the mid-life crisis a funny cathartic journey.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) play the ordinary couple who mingle with people even more socially conforming than they are. We are introduced to their friends who talk incessantly about their new baby. As if equating having a children with attaining a real sense of fufillment, we see a frighteningly accurate depiction of social expectation in modern society. Baumbach then introduces the oddball couple Jamie and Darby who interact with Ben and Naomi by means of a lecture class. Being impressed with Ben’s lecture and his previous documentaries, the couples become fast friends. Welcome to the a world of indie apartments, listening to music on an old record player and doing whatever the hell you want. Jamie and Darby both represent an almost untainted ideal of youth that Josh and Cornelia find far more exciting than their routine lives. With a certain light-heartedness and humour, Baumbach paints a rosy picture that’s probably too good to be true. The film leaves signs like the ambiguous nature of the vomiting ritual where Cornelia, in her hallucinatory state, mistakes Jamie for Josh and kisses him. Jamie’s attempts to draw Josh and Cornelia into his exciting world feels a little dubious too. In the build-up towards the movie’s climatic end, there’s a feeling that living the life on the fast lane is simply too much for Josh and Cornelia aka ‘The oldies’ to sustain. Noah Baumbach’s thematic angle is nice but the way he fleshes out his point is where While We’re Young finds it’s flaws.
Things start to go wrong for the middle-aged couple Josh and Cornelia when we start seeing Jamie starting to take advantage of Cornelia’s contacts and Josh’s ideas to make headway on his own documentary at the expense of Josh’s own struggling project. With this tension point, the film is starting to go off track. Baumbach exemplifies his point about age by showing how Jamie isn’t actually scheming nor evil but rather an archetype of 21st century teenagers and their fixation on goals instead of ‘the process’. I find it rather insulting, as I am a teenager myself, that attributes of ruthless desire for success and our sole focus on ends instead of ‘process’ or method are being associated with our generation. And to defend Jamie’s acts of machiavellian ways simply as a personality of the millenial generation is to reduce our inherent moral values to the powers of time and age. Most of the millenials aren’t even close to Jamie’s personality. Most teenagers don’t have archaic collectibles for kicks like CD records and rusty record players despite it’s growing indie appeal. Most of us don’t even know what an Ayahuasca ceremony; If we did, we’d probably be repulsed by the taboo intricacies of healing from vomiting. Most of all, we may be young and foolish but we don’t behave like Jamie (at least most of us) and neither do we condone his acts as a sort of inherent generation-induced personality.
While I might sound harsh toward the film’s method of introducing it’s conflict and climax, it was a entertaining and provocative movie up till those points mentioned. I had a great laugh especially during the singing scene involving the mothers and babies. It’s greatest strength is it’s genuinely funny dialogue and characters so it’s definitely right up there in the humour department. What’s unfortunate is perhaps it’s confusing message about age. The acting was fantastic and comedic moments were never short. The very real conflicts the characters have with age and lifestyle are nicely explored. I just wish the movie would have gone off in a different direction at the end. The eccentric avant-garde world of the youth is at odds with the routine safe shell of the middle-aged. While We’re Young has captured the nuances of the conflict, albeit with some inaccuracies. More interestingly, While We’re Young doesn’t side with either lifestyle and leaves us to decide for our own.