While We're Young
Directed by Noah Baumbach
An uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife find their lives loosened up a bit after befriending a free-spirited younger couple.
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★★★★ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
Currently sweeping my apartment for bugs, because I'm fairly convinced Noah Baumbach has been listening to my wife and I’s conversations. Some scenes hit eerily close to home. Not sure the whole "Actually, it's about ethics in documentary filmmaking" second half totally works with the wry comedy of the first, but Baumbach’s powers of observation continue to grow and sharpen.
★★★★ review by Filmspotting on Letterboxd
I'm all in on this like Stiller's character committing to a hipster fedora. No Noah Baumbach movie has made me laugh so much – then again, no Noah Baumbach movie has made me laugh much, and when I did, I was usually laughing at characters more than laughing with them. There's a generosity to YOUNG, an uncynical, relatable longing to connect – and to simply be better – that underlies the comedy. FRANCES HA'S black-and-white aside, I've also never reacted much to Baumbach's visual style (or lack thereof). But the cinematography and editing here heighten, not merely capture, the humor and dramatic tension.
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
I'm assuming that this isn't going to be one of my more popular reviews, because the opinion that I am about to express doesn't seem to be a very widely held one (seeing as Frances Ha is a pretty well loved film) but I almost feel as if While We're Young and Frances Ha need to be compared - or better yet, contrasted - because looking at the films side by side is like doing a brief longitudinal study of Baumbach and seeing how he is growing as a director, making more concrete decisions and presenting rounder, more complex characters with greater self-confidence in his writing.
It came as a surprise how much I ended up loving While We're Young because of the negative experience I had with Frances Ha. I almost wasn't going to write anything up on this film, but after it ended, I got into a slight debate with a friend of mine on good ol' Facebook, and I think I'm just going to insert a couple of those thoughts here.
I truly thought Frances Ha was a significant step down for Baumbach, and his least realized film with regard to his representation of Frances - how he as the director viewed her, how he expected the audience to view her, and most importantly, how viewers of the film actually ended up perceiving her. Whereas here, I thought he took a very fair, balanced and (for lack of a better word) understandable approach to young adult/contemporary culture, both celebrating it and critiquing it in equal measure. In contrast to Frances Ha, I think people will actually come out of the film comprehending what Baumbach is trying to say about his characters (whereas I think the characters in Frances Ha are pretty well misunderstood by many, which is the result of uneven character portrayals, IMO).
As subjective as cinema is - and it is 100% subjective - I must (frustratedly) maintain that I think Frances is a deeply misinterpreted character... and not in a good way. I don't despise the film, and I understand rather well that once a film enters the mind of a viewer, they're totally free to perceive it how they will and think what they think, but that doesn't change the fact that I believe a lot of fans of the film did not understand what Baumbach's vision with her character was - not that that even matters, because like I said, it's only the vision of the viewer that matters in the end - but it did keep me from loving the film as much as many others do. That was not the case here.
Seeing an updated perspective from Baumbach on "hipster culture" (again, for lack of better words) does make me want to re-visit Frances Ha, and see if I come out of it with a different result than last time. After all, I've only seen it once. For now though, I do think that While Were Young is Baumbach's best film since his darkly comedic masterpiece, The Squid and The Whale.
You should catch it while it's still in theaters.
★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“For the first time in my life I've stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.”
This is my fourth Noah Baumbach film and up to now I have enjoyed all his movies although I still think Frances Ha is his best possibly because Greta Gerwig is the perfect match for delivering the lines he writes. His screenplays are unique and he writes about things he knows and experiences by living in New York. His characters come out as hipster and snarky most of the time and for that reason it’s hard to enjoy hanging around them, but the way Baumbach approaches the material makes the experience an interesting one. Despite writing his films as comedies, Baumbach is concerned with being honest and arousing deep emotions in his audience. In While We’re Young Baumbach also includes the familiar topic of aging, but he does so with his own unique style. In a great scene we see the older generation messaging each other in their latest iPhones, watching series in their Apple TV, and listening to music in their iPods, while the young and cool kids are going vintage listening to old records, playing board games, and watching video tapes in their squared TV. It was an interesting commentary on how at times we struggle to keep up with technology to continue looking young, while the hipsters go out of their way to try to stand out by bringing things from the past but as hard as they try they never do turn out to be very sincere and authentic or as cool as they’d like to be. This generation gap is honestly explored by Baumbach and he does so with his classic comedic touch.
In While We’re Young, Baumbach introduces us to a mid aged married couple, Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) who unlike most of their other married friends haven’t had children. In a way it does affect their friendship with other couples their same age because they can’t relate in the same way. Josh also happens to be a struggling documentarian who has spent the past ten years trying to finish his latest film. He also gives courses and it is during one of those lectures that he befriends a young couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). They are hip and cool kids who seem to be living spontaneously. Darby even makes her own ice cream. When Jamie praises John for one of his earlier documentaries, he quickly takes a liking for the kid and accepts an invitation to hang out with them. Jamie himself is an aspiring documentarian and Josh decides to take him under his wings and assist him. Both John and Cornelia befriend this young energetic couple and their lives begin to change. They enjoy the feeling of being able to look and act young again, but not everything is what it seems.
Ben Stiller has worked with Baumbach in the past and he sort of plays a similar character here. He is full of himself and seems to be discontent with the way his life is going. He is still at his dramatic best when working alongside Baumbach. It was fun to see his transformation once he befriends Driver’s character and even begins wearing a fedora to look hip. Naomi Watts is also great and delivers in her physical comedy scenes, especially in one where she is invited to a hip-hop dance class with Darby. Adam Driver also returns after his collaboration with Baumbach in Frances Ha and his character is very phony. From the moment he appears on screen you realize he isn’t as spontaneous as he claims to be. The film is at its best when it focuses on the dynamic relationship between these two couples, but it gets off course at times when it tries to be a commentary on artistic integrity. Baumbach didn’t seem capable of balancing those two themes and for that reason the later section of the film doesn’t work as well as the first half.
★★★★★ review by Sam Van Hallgren on Letterboxd
Sublimely funny and sneakily wise.
To critics of the movie's second (less overtly funny) half: I dug it. It's the story of a love affair. To quote Cole Porter: "Our love was too hot not to cool down." Silly infatuation leading to the inevitable fear that the beloved may not love you as much as you love the beloved. And oh, the first half. So so so funny.
And I think the movie is actually quite wise about how it portrays - not just youth, but the perception of youth by the old(er). Baumbach could easily have made a movie that satirizes or, worse, condemns, the millennials and their sense of entitlement. But he doesn't. He forces his gen-x protagonists to get down and dirty with them and I believe it when they come out of the experience changed. Not because Jamie and Darby (and their tribe) have anything specific to offer - but because Stiller's Josh and Watts' Cornelia allowed themselves to be vulnerable. The movie teaches us that there is no way to avoid looking foolish to someone. Have a kid; don't have a kid. Collect records; wear earbuds. Wear a fedora; act your age. No one gets out alive. Literally.
And all the high minded talk about "truth" at the end of the film... I think it's Baumbach's way of illustrating how we perceive things at different points in our lives. Certainly "truth" has been redefined in the context of doc filmmaking over the years. And Grodin's Lincoln speech suggests that truth and our means of capturing it will continue to be defined by future generations.
Cast excellent. Having missed much of her recent stuff, I was happy to have a chance to be reminded of how good Watts can be - and how funny. And as great as Driver is; this is Stiller's movie. Sure it's a variation on The Stiller Character - but nobody does it better.
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