A topic that is rarely broached in considering the idea of film is that of fear. Not in the sense of the horror/suspense genre, but the fear of whether a film will be good or not? Will it succeed or will it suck? Sometimes fear can creep into our ideas of whether something will be worth the scant time we have available to consume it in our busy lives. Such was the case going into viewing Ben Stiller’s most recent flick, ‘While We’re Young’. On the heels of films like ‘Greenberg’, ‘Tower Heist’, ‘The Watch’, and ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (good, not great); there were legitimate concerns that Ben Stiller had officially jumped the shark as an actor. The days of peak Stiller were seemingly over post-pinnacle-picture, ‘Tropic Thunder’. Until now…
Laden with an all-star cast of Stiller, Adam Driver, Naomi Watts, and Amanda Seyfried, ‘While We’re Young’intertwines the story of two couples – one is old, Josh and Cornelia (Stiller and Watts), and one is young, Jamie and Darby (Driver and Seyfried). Their lives represent a dichotomy. Josh and Cornelia have grown older and seek the novel, fresh purpose of their new friends, while Jamie and Darby crave the sage wisdom and experience of their older counterparts. As the two couples get to know each other, and experience life through the others’ lens, a bond connects them as they begin to work together in filmmaking until it ultimately drives them apart, but into a higher place than before.
A terrific gambit ‘While We’re Young’ plays is to drive two thematic motifs in one narrative. The first is about growing old, living in one’s purpose with the loss of beauty, the fears of aging, and the jealousy of your life’s chosen path opposed to another’s journey. ‘While We’re Young’ juxtaposes our tech-obsessed culture vitalised by the routine of life, with a younger, more careless and free-spirited youth that’s not tied down or stuck-in-a-rut. At one point, Seyfried’s character, Darby ponders, “me and Jamie always wondered how we were going to get old. The answer is…just like everyone else”.
The second motif revolves around film and directorial culture. The idea of purist documentary filmmaking, in an old school manner, compared to a more staged, mainstream or modern ability to create documentaries surmised with genuine texture. It climaxes in a penultimate showdown between Josh and Jamie, whence Josh argues, “if everyone’s filming everything, what’s a documentary anymore? It has no meaning; it’s just some shit you recorded”.
Before Adam Driver became the infamous Kylo Ren, he actually was on a decent path in his acting career. His dickish candor in ‘What If’, a devil-may-care attitude in ‘This is Where I Leave You’, and even a jollier side in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, left one with a good taste in the proverbial mouth. Driver is a legitimately good actor who flexes his chops hardcore once more throughout this showing. In one instance, Driver talks about a poem his friend wrote in high school. He quotes a line, “I want to be unbridgeable”. Unbridgeable meaning impossible to span or not able to be made less significant. It’s such a powerful line at a critical turning point in the movie, that Driver delivers with a sanguine despondence only he can do. It makes you believe this Driver fellow might actually turn out to be a star in the making.
Debuting at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, and directed by Noah Baumbach, who worked with Driver in ‘Frances Ha’, and with Stiller in ‘Madagascar 3’ and ‘Greenberg’, ‘While We’re Young’ may well be Baumbach’s finest work since ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. In addition to splicing Tupac’s most fire track, ‘Hit Em Up’, into an everyday situation, it’s a film that is surprisingly powerful and deep, one which teaches the viewer to painting your own story and not necessarily accept your fate, and perhaps being able to face those fears and to not be restricted from embracing modernity.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried