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Movie review 'While We’re Young': A comic, poignant look at the age divide

DC | ROHINI NAIR
Published May 2, 2015, 6:51 am IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 7:40 am IST
Noah Baumbach has been lauded for etching such a sharp portrait of the times we live in

Cast: Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rating: 3 stars

In one of the letters she received to her popular advice column “Dear Sugar”, the writer Cheryl Strayed was once asked to give a convocation message to a batch of new graduates. In the column, which she called “The Future Has An Ancient Heart”, Strayed, then in her 40s, wrote to the 20-something students: “you are so god dam**d young. Which means about eight of the 10 things you have decided about yourself will over time prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true that you’ll look back in 20 years and howl.”

 

For anyone who is in their 20s, grasping the true meaning of those words may well be difficult. But for those who’ve crossed that decade of heady youth, there’s something here—a spark of recognition with your own life, that you may feel.

It is this look at youth and life and what time does to us — for better or worse — that comes through in the new Naomi Watts-Ben Stiller film While We’re Young. It’s being pitched as a comedy, and indeed it is. But there’s more here if you care to look, a sentiment very similar to the one expressed by Strayed.

The film begins with a burgeoning — and unlikely — friendship between 40-somethings Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) and 20-somethings Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie, an aspiring filmmaker, professes to admire the work of Josh, a documentary filmmaker, and his father-in-law (Cornelia’s dad) who is a legendary name in the field. Josh and Cornelia are childless, surrounded by friends who’re engrossed in bringing up their children and all that it entails, so when they get a chance to hang out with this decidedly cool young couple (who make them feel a whole lot younger too), they’re pretty happy.

In one montage, the film establishes the contrasts between the two couples: Josh and Cornelia (paradoxically enough) are more “cued-in” to the world. They’re always connected to their smart phones, listen to music on MP3 players. Jamie and Darby, on the other hand, listen to old vinyl records; he works on a typewriter, she makes all-natural ice creams; they both prefer not to find their answers through Google.

Under Jamie and Darby’s influence, Josh and Cornelia begin to act “younger” as well. Josh gets a hat like Jamie’s and begins to cycle everywhere; Cornelia joins hip-hop dance classes like Darby. They even decide to help Jamie with his documentary — in which he reaches out to a high school friend who contacts him on Facebook and find out that he is now a war veteran with suicidal tendencies (in a clever dialogue, when Jamie tells Josh his plan — that he will make a trip to go see the first person from his childhood who sends him a ‘friend’ request on Facebook, Josh asks, “You mean like in real life?”). But then, the friendship begins to crack, fuelled by Josh’s realisation that Jamie is perhaps not everything he seems to be.

Writer-director Noah Baumbach has been lauded for etching such a sharp portrait of the times we live in, for While We’re Young’s funny lines and for creating such relatable characters. And indeed, the praise is well deserved. If we were to nitpick, perhaps the somewhat anti-climatic denouement towards the end of the film would make it to our list. Another would be that while all the characters are very believable and nuanced, one of a hedge fund investor (who Josh is trying to prevail on to fund his documentary) is something of a caricature.

But these are minor grouses in a film that isn’t really about one caricatured character or a bland climax. While We’re Young works at many levels — it is at once a humorous jab at our varied obsessions, be it with technology, or with keeping up, or with wanting to stay young. It’s also — like that column written by Cheryl Strayed — a look at youth and all its charm and promise and pretensions. It’s a look at the things we get to know only when we’re no longer so terribly young: That “about eight of the 10 things you have decided about yourself will over time prove to be false”. And that the other two “will prove to be so true that you’ll look back in 20 years and howl”.

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