‘While We’re Young’ Review: Noah Baumbach’s Most Mainstream Work Is Also His Most Charming

While We're Young

Scott Rudin Productions

Adulthood is not the answer. Director Noah Baumbach has long played with characters who exhibit little interest or ability to just plain grow up, from the arrested development of the college grads in Kicking and Screaming, to the unrestrained emotion of Roger Greenberg in his Greenberg, to the charming immaturity of Frances Ha, but that doesn’t mean that taking on the trappings of adulthood will suddenly solve the issues of Baumbach’s characters. Being a grown up is just as impossible as refusing to do so, there are just better apartments to act out your angst in.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia don’t really fit in with their friends anymore – even their best friends Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horowitz, yes, Ad-Rock) – because everyone around them has gone baby-mad and the pair remains childless. It’s not for lack of trying, however, and it soon becomes apparent that Josh and Cornelia attempted to expand their family before, and it didn’t work out (like, really didn’t work out). Distraught from that portion of their lives, and more than a bit flummoxed by the baby brains all their friends seem to exhibit, the couple decides babies aren’t for them. So where do they fit?

Josh, a documentary film director by trade, has been struggling with his “latest” film for nearly a decade, and although Josh and Cornelia don’t seem to want for money (Cornelia has a steady gig as a doc producer for her father, Josh’s former mentor), Josh is short on inspiration. The apparently random appearance of a pair of hip twentysomethings – Adam Driver is first shown in a wide shot, all smirking smile and giant fedora, the obvious focal point of everything else around him – in a film class he seems to be teaching to combat boredom brings something quite unexpected: new friends. Jamie (Driver) is a budding documentarian himself, his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) is there for support and would they like to grab some Chinese food with the energetic duo?

Jamie and Darby certainly look and talk like caricatures of the current class of Brooklyn hipster, but their infectious enthusiasm for all sorts of things (from artisanal ice cream to funky hats to the songs of Josh’s own youth) sparks something in Josh and Cornelia, and the two couples become fast friends. While Jamie and Darby embrace the past, Josh and Cornelia are modern and plugged in – a juxtaposition that Baumbach plays with consistently, but particularly during a very funny and very snappy montage – but there’s some kind of middle ground here, and although their friendship sounds improbable, it works for them.

Well, for a bit. Baumbach takes some obvious detours throughout the feature, While We’re Young’s plot hits a few snags around its middle section, most notably during an otherwise amusing sequence that quickly collapses into about three minutes of “oh, no, is that what he’s doing with this?” Yet the director soon course-corrects, and While We’re Young is back up and running in no time, a tremendously observed and adroit outing that packs humor and honesty into a slight story and a slim running time.

While We’re Young’s couples are well-matched (Stiller and Watts are particularly charming and believable as a long-term couple), and Baumbach rounds out his core cast with a number of nimble picks for supporting talent, including the recently revived Charles Grodin as Cornelia’s father, Adam Horowitz as Josh’s best friend Fletcher, Dree Hemingway as Darby and Jamie’s air-headed roommate and Million Dollar Listing NY star Ryan Serhant as a delightfully dim-witted hedge fund guy looking to invest in docs.

Baumbach’s brand of humor is on full display here, especially during the film’s first act, which is so top-loaded with jokes that it almost begs for an immediate second watch to catch up on all the lines its audience laughed over the first time. Still, there’s a mainstream appeal here that the filmmaker has been steadily working towards for years; perhaps it’s that the director seems so happy and comfortable to be dabbling with different generations, and he’s able to unveil and skewer some pretty sharp truths about both his couples. The result is a fast and very funny send-up of generational disparity and inhibited maturation that never feels cruel or calculated, the kind of film that makes you feel, well, just kind of young again.

The Upside: Adam Driver’s performance, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts’ comfortable chemistry, a clever and bright skewering of modern culture, stellar soundtrack, zippy pace, an unrelentingly funny first act.

The Downside: A series of obvious choices lead to the film’s major conflict, the second act sags just enough to temporarily deflate the humor.

On the Side: Greta Gerwig was initially tapped to play Darby, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.

grade_a_minus

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