Past the Popcorn: Ben Stiller Proves Mildly Entertaining in While We’re Young
by Jeff Walls
In director Noah Baumbach’s latest, While We’re Young, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a 40-something married couple stuck in something of a rut. After a couple of failed pregnancies, they are both pretty sure that they will be able to be happy without having kids, but this perception gets more and more challenged as their friends start having children and drifting away. Stiller’s Josh is a documentary filmmaker who is currently in his tenth year working on the same project, so he’s also in a professional rut. They need something new injected into their lives.
Enter Jamie and Darby, a 20-something married couple living the hipster lifestyle to the fullest. Both Josh and Watts’ Cornelia are immediately taken with this free-spirited young couple and they become instant friends. It turns out, too, that Jamie is an aspiring filmmaker and sees Josh as a mentor. Josh agrees to help Jamie with his latest project, a simple story about reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, and is shocked when the story suddenly becomes much bigger than he anticipated.
While We’re Young starts off great. After an opening quote from Ibsen’s The Master Builder about letting young people in, we see Josh and Cornelia struggling to welcome in the youngest of people: their friends’ newborn baby. The scene is very comedic as the couple struggles to recall even the simplest nursery rhymes from their own childhood. Josh’s ever-changing facial hair then gives us an idea of just how long he has been working on his latest documentary.
Jamie and Darby are then rushed into the story and we, as the audience, are taken with them just as instantly as Josh and Cornelia. They live in a loft apartment that Cornelia describes as being full of the things that they would have thrown away and it truly is hipster paradise. For fun, they do pretty much whatever they want. They walk old subway lines, throw beach parties on the sidewalk, and Darby even makes her own flavors of ice cream. It looks like a fun life and we are as thrilled as Josh and Cornelia are to be a part of it.
After that opening, though, the film starts to get away from itself and us. The movie becomes less about the older couple living life like the younger couple and more about Josh’s suspicions of Jamie’s true intentions and the real reason why he befriended him. There are also forced moments of potential infidelities that seem unnecessary. The movie had to go somewhere, I know, and there are moments that are interesting, but it quickly becomes a strain. It also becomes more about Josh alone and less about his relationship with Cornelia, which is what the film really wanted to be about.
The movie also struggles in its pacing as the movie progresses and gets itself bogged down in a couple of scenes that are far less interesting than the movie needs them to be. One of these scenes is particularly awkward… and it is supposed to be, both for the characters and for us; but while that is fine for a brief scene, this one scene just continues to drag on and on, until it is no longer just awkward, but also annoying and dull. These scenes do little but contribute to the movie feeling longer than its should-be-brisk runtime of 97 minutes.
While We’re Young will probably be appreciated by those who enjoyed director Baumbach’s earlier works like The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and Frances Ha, but it is unlikely to draw many new viewers in.
While We’re Young opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 in downtown Seattle. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!