Walter Mitty couldn’t get the girl to notice him. Greg Focker couldn’t get the parents’ approval. Larry Daley was having a pretty tough time even before the artifacts in the American Museum of Natural History tried to kill him. Just wait until you meet Josh.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) live in childless bliss in New York City where they’ve gotten into a mindless day-to-day routine. Josh is a struggling documentarian and professor living in the shadow of his very successful father-in-law whom he refuses to accept help from. When Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young married couple, befriend him after his class, they bring a wave of misfortune to an already drowning Josh.
With an accomplished core cast and an appearance by Charles Grodin, it’s not surprising that the acting is phenomenal, but it’s Adam Driver who steals the show. He plays this manipulative and sinister character that makes your skin crawl and blood boil. Whereas Stiller is once again typecast as a “woe is me” little man, Jamie is completely unlike Driver’s character on HBO’s Girls. Driver makes you hate him, but Stiller is unable to win your sympathies.
One of the reasons for this is that the plot is so predictable for not just the audience, but for Josh and Cornelia as well. I promise I’m not pretending to be some literary psychic; Noah Baumbach, director and writer, is clearly giving away this information for whatever reason. Whereas the characters are in denial, you’re just waiting for the truth behind Jamie’s scheme to come out.
This middle part of the film between audience discovery and the inevitable altercation is where the merit lies. The film partakes in one of society’s favorite activities: making fun of hipsters. Jamie and Darby play quintessential hipsters who ride bikes, drink PBR, throw midday barbeques in Bushwick, and refuse to use Google. They start to turn Josh and Cornelia into their own fedora clad minions and it’s pretty hilarious. And then this light-hearted comedy takes a turn for the worse.
A film you thought was about the differences between young and old becomes a massive argument about authenticity and the means to an end. Not only is it difficult to decipher what you’re supposed to care about, it’s hard to care at all because Josh’s character is so pathetic and the outcome is so predictable. The very serious vibes in the last twenty minutes of the film are in stark contrast to the rest of it, and it’s almost aggravating that Baumbach suddenly wants you to have an introspective conversation about whether or not it’s okay to cut corners and step on people to get to the top. No, thank you.
Much of the movie is a critique on the digital age and technology that surprisingly revolves around the middle-aged couple and not the twenty-somethings. Through an amusing montage we see Josh and Cornelia’s dependence on their devices and the way it is tearing their marriage apart. Yes, this film is about the trial and tribulations of marriage too!
The presentation of While We’re Young is what you would expect from the genius behind 2005’s The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach’s camera work is purposeful and he isn’t afraid to take risks which works in his favor. Unfortunately, his finesse as a director does not make up for the flaws in his plot which are numerous and irreparable.