Following the critical acclaim While We’re Young, the latest effort from Noah Baumbach, has been been receiving, I expected to be distinctly impressed upon viewing. I did not expect to leave feeling entirely underwhelmed and at times irritated by the heavy-handed, misguided attempts to inform the audience as to how we should perhaps view youth, life and growing up.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh, a documentary film maker whose latest effort has taken over eight years to complete. His wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) produces the documentary films her acclaimed father creates. Josh feels, as his father in law’s previous protege, that he has somehow let him down by not living up to his full potential. Part-time Josh also lectures, and it is at one of his inept lectures (during which his flat delivery and difficulty at getting the PowerPoint to work leaves one audience member apologising to him out of pity) that he crosses paths with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) a young, enthusiastic married couple who invite Josh out to lunch before easily accepting his offer to pay for their meal.
Jamie professes to be a fan of Josh’s work and Josh, along with Cornelia, soon find themselves infatuated with the young idealistic couple. Their youth and lust for life proves to be intoxicating for the older couple and they rapidly find themselves open to new experiences that they may have rejected before.
Cornelia and Josh, after various difficulties including traumatic miscarriages, have stopped trying for children, and find their friends increasingly evangelic attempts to convert them to the joys of new parenthood ever more distasteful, which may be why Darby and Jamie’s life without responsibilities proves to be so seductive.
Despite this clear focus on youth and responsibility, I am still at a loss as to what Baumbach is trying to do here. We see several montages in which Cornelia and Josh’s reliance on technology is juxtaposed with Jamie and Darby’s love of traditional board games and other such traditional pursuits; is Baumbach trying to tell us something about the increasing dependence on technology? If so, it seems simultaneously heavy-handed and entirely opaque. He also appears to be attempting to extol the virtues of parenthood, but again, I am confused as to what the actual message should be or why indeed, this should be his message.
Whilst I usually steer clear of describing films as being of two halves (rejecting this idea) it is perhaps easy to pinpoint the moment as to which While We’re Young begins to lose its appeal. Initially focusing on both Cornelia and Josh (both likeable and enjoyable to watch particularly in their interactions together) the film increasingly focuses on Josh and Josh alone. Josh’s character is not enough to sustain the entire duration of the film, and it is notable that once again female characters are pushed to the sidelines of the narrative. While We’re Young could have been far more interesting if we were able to witness both Josh and Cornelia’s journey rather than witnessing Cornelia’s development through the males around her.