While We're Young (2014)

Viewed February 27th

A childless married couple in their forties befriends a twenty-something Brooklyn hipster couple, only to realize that the young hipsters are not as innocent as they initially presented themselves.  

One of the flaws of Ben Stiller's failed documentarian character Josh is that he's taken ten years to make a theoretically-obscure six-hour political documentary that no one would ever want to view. In some ways, writer/director Noah Baumbach comes up against the opposite problem in While We're Young. Baumbach, who was going through a particularly prolific period at the time, seems to have embraced producing this film in a somewhat unpolished state. There are good ideas and good lines and a good plot structure, but it feels like the script maybe should have been worked on more in order to resolve a few character ideas and story points. Now the thing with feeling dashed-off is that there can be a sort of aura of expressive life that can surround a movie like that and that can feel good. And While We're Young has that to some extent, but not really enough. So it ends up feeling Baumbach-lite compared to some of his stronger outings, like Frances Ha, also from that period. Now, all that said, the fact that he was working vigorously to produce a series of films around this point, each with their own signature Baumbach visual style, sense of humor, and characteristic thematic ideas, also puts the film in a sort of broader auteurist narrative, or Baumbach universe in which it functions as one relatively smaller gesture. And when viewed from that vantage point, it holds up better. We can see Ben Stiller's Josh in dialogue with the character Stiller himself played in Greenberg. And the themes of the film (also explored in Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's De Palma) mirror this idea of a broader story unfolding: we hear again and again about time's relentlessness and the way talent can be skipped over if you're not aggressive enough and how the most important narrative for a filmmaker is the one that comes from the arc of a career (made explicit with the older documentarian Leslie Breitbart's Lincoln Center memorial speech). So when these sort of resonances between the individual film and Baumbach's broader narrative as a filmmaker emerge, While We're Young itself feels more intentional and thoughtful.  The star here is not Stiller but Baumbach himself. What we're watching is him performing his ideas about film and, more generally, about life.