Director Noah Baumbach's latest chatty, effervescent treatise on middle age, While We're Young, is both Ben Stiller's finest turn in years and the most nuanced portrait of Brooklyn hipsterdom we've probably ever seen onscreen. I'm not the first critic to point out that it feels in many ways like the indie analog to Seth Rogen's Neighbors from last year. In any case it's a comedy of age-and-culture clash — 44-year-old hipsters meet 26-year-old hipsters! — and it opens Friday at the Cedar Lee.
Josh (Stiller) is a documentary filmmaker who for eight years has been tinkering with footage on an ambitious project that still hasn't taken shape. His producer wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is in a holding pattern as well, personally and professionally.
The film opens on Josh and Cornelia struggling pitifully to calm the infant of their friends, and then listening politely as they're regaled with the transformative joys of birthing. This baby thing, we intuit instantly, is not for them.
Ripe for an intrusion (or in need of a distraction), Josh is taken with the cartoonishly bohemian Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who pop in to the continuing education class he teaches. Jamie claims to be a huge fan of Josh's early work and proceeds to install himself in Josh's life, as a "friend."
Josh is both flattered and energized by Jamie's slick and cavalier approach to filmmaking, and is bashfully attracted to the idea of having a protege, (or rather, of being a filmmaker worthy of one). Cornelia, too, though initially skeptical, falls for the whimsy and freshness of the young Bushwick couple's lifestyle.
The first half of the film, then, juxtaposes these attitudes and signifiers in ways we've seen before, but nevertheless don't feel like clichés: It's true that Darby makes her own ice cream and Jamie is into vinyl and VHS cassettes. It's true that their Bushwick loft is decorated with all the reclamation-chic refinements we'd expect.
And it's true that the wine-drinking Josh and Cornelia are very attached to their mobile devices, and comment on their attachment like good, self-aware gen-Xers.
But Jamie is also ambitious and at times cutthroat. Josh is tortured by the notion that he's not the filmmaker everyone expected him to be. Though While We're Young drifts, perhaps, too far into the weeds of filmmaking ethics for the casual viewer, it's the stuff about aging—the young don't own exclusive rights to mistake-making, for one—that resonate with great effect.
Additionally, Baumbach has choreographed some very funny encounters here. Mescaline séance anyone? He locates a few dead-on emotional moments where the generations intersect and collide.
Given the god-awful scripts we've seen thus far in 2015, While We're Young has the advantage of comparison.
It's sometimes overly direct in its messaging and imagery, but there's great satisfaction in watching a film with a vision and an argument, and four very gifted actors taking their respective sides.