JDIFF Review – While We’re Young

Josh (Ben Stiller) has been working on a documentary for 10 years, as a follow up to his well received first film; his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is struggling with the decision they made to not have children. Their carefully ordered, and overly justified life, is opened up when they meet the young and charming Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who appear generous and free, and to live life on their own terms. When Jamie asks Josh to collaborate with him on a film, however, Josh soon realises that Jamie may not be as free spirited as he first thought.

Noah Baumbach has long since proven himself as a director who carefully observes the human condition, with varying degrees of success; The Squid and the Whale is a beautifully created film about the end of a marriage, but Greenberg was less than inspiring. While We’re Young feels like a culmination for the director, and is his best film in years.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are on fantastic form as an upper middle class New York couple whose world has been carefully constructed; neither challenges the other too much, but they allow and help each other to make excuses for the life choices they have made. Stiller is the least manic and over the top he has been in a long time – and therefore much more engaging – and Watts has proven time and again that playing tightly wound, offbeat women is something she has a talent for, which is what she shows off here. Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried capture the young, ruthless hipster couple incredibly well, and their enthusiasm is infectious to begin with, before they descend into displays of selfishness, and the ruthless talent for gathering together the strengths from other peoples’ lives.

Noah Baumbach’s screenplay is about the relationship between two couples, and how they start to rub off one on another. As the film goes on, Stiller and Watts force themselves to be more free, spontaneous and creative, while Seyfried and Driver become ruthless, cunning and jaded. The dialogue is keenly observed and often incredibly funny, as the audience is in on the secret that both couples avoid for much of the film.

Baumbach directs with a light touch, allowing these characters to find themselves in increasingly stressful and strange situations, as friends fall away and betrayals are revealed. Baumbach also makes sure to highlight the fact that the young want to be older, and the old want to be young again, while everyone thinks that they are special and different, and will live forever. There are plenty of sight gags and touches that make the film strong, but things start to fall apart in the last 20 minutes, as the characters try to face up to the choices they have made; it seems Baumbach was less comfortable with resolution than he was with poking fun at everyone.

In all, While We’re Young is like This is 40, but funny. It shines a spotlight on the futility of trying to recapture youth, be someone we are not, or not accept that we have become the people we are for a reason. Baumbach’s screenplay is funny and poignant, and the central four – Stiller and Watts, Seyfried and Driver – are on rare and fantastic form. It’s just a shame that the last 20 minutes of the film descends into messy and inarticulate chaos.

Rating: 4/5

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