These days, nobody writes mid-40s misanthrope quite like Noah Baumbach. Unfortunately, most of the characters in his movies are so bitter, so off-putting that they wear out their welcome and it’s difficult to care after spending two hours with them.
In “While We’re Young”, Baumbach has not only directed and written a movie with his most likable and accessible characters, he’s shaped what may end up as one of the funniest movies of 2015.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), two married New York DINKs (dual income, no kids) in their mid-40s, are cruising through life as their friends all pump out kids. Josh is a documentarian who had a modest debut hit, but has spent almost a decade putting together a follow up. Cornelia works for her father, Leslie (Charles Grodin), himself a famous documentarian who once mentored Josh.
Things start to get slightly haywire for them when their friends and last baby holdout, Fletcher (Adam Horovitz/Ad Rock from the Beastie Boys) and Marina (Maria Dizzia), have a newborn. This, along with the fact that neither of them are happy with their stations in life, sends Josh and Cornelia into a bit of an introspective funk.
Then, through what seems like coincidence, they meet Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a couple in their mid-20s that look like they came straight out of an Urban Outfitters catalog. They own a rooster, share an apartment with another girl, listen to vinyl, and go to “street beach” parties. They are classic examples of youthful hipster, making them everything that Josh and Cornelia think they still should be.
It turns out that Jamie is a fledgling young documentarian, which only ups the bromance between he and Josh. Cornelia is a bit more hesitant to embrace their newfound friendship, but after a trip with a trio of mothers with newborns to a baby event, she jumps into the relationship with both feet.
This allows both Stiller and Watts to be brilliantly funny, charming, awkward, and sad. Stiller gets out his ten year old wingtips, buys a fedora, then pedals down the street on a rickety bicycle, only inflaming his arthritic knees while he struggles to keep up with Jamie. Cornelia attends a dance class with Darby, only to find out that it’s a hip hop dance class.
All of this makes “While We’re Young” hilarious. It’s hard to believe that Baumbach, the guy that gave us the horrid main character of (insert any previous Baumbach movie here), came up with this truly funny and heartwarming script. These characters are all preciously flawed, but never irritating or purposefully cruel, a problem that occurred in every one of Baumbach’s movies to date.
Baumbach gets the most from every single actor involved. It’s a bit strange to see a Beastie Boy play a mature dad figure, but Horovitz is fantastic. He and Dizzia have great chemistry and play off each other beautifully.
Driver and Seyfried each put their best work in. Seyfried is the most likable character in the entire movie, portraying a free spirit with ease and never seeming flighty or dense. Driver is the most hatable, but his charm and timing make his hipper-than-thou attitude digestible.
Naomi Watts needs to be in more comedies. Watching her hip hop dance in the hallway of her home is one of the funnier moments in recent movie history. Watts is elegant and sweet, even when scowling at a room full of crying toddlers.
While the ensemble makes “While We’re Young” work, this is Stiller’s show and he may never have been better. He’s simultaneously awkward and pretentious, arrogant and self-conscious, and more importantly, Stiller does this without being annoying.
There are only a few mild missteps that involve a big plot twist. A few things happen that make it seem like a character is a comic book villain with the ability to set off a chain reaction of nearly a dozen events happening in their favor. It also hurts that one character who is particularly principled suddenly says “meh” and shrugs off those principles.
Other than those tiny, easily ignorable oddities, “While We’re Young” is a perfect grown up movie. It’s smart and clever, hiding out amongst other movies that are comedically bankrupt or involve speeding cars flying from skyscraper rooftops.
This is a must see for people that like a bit more depth from comedies and it should be easily identifiable for the same people that it is about: middle aged married people without any children.