MOVIE REVIEW: ‘While We’re Young’ Is Baumbach At His Weakest

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Film: While We’re Young
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts
Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Noah Baumbach has spent the majority of his career exploring the idea of identity and what it means to different people at various stages in life. It’s a theme that runs throughout every single one of his works, but never has it been presented in such an oddly mischevious way than in his latest feature, While We’re Young.

Living on the wrong side of forty, a filmmaker (Ben Stiller) and his wife (Naomi Watts) have recently discovered they are growing increasingly bored by their continued existence. Life has more or less begun to pass them by, with each year slipping by faster than the last, and as much as they might like to pretend they haven’t noticed, the recent arrival of a newborn baby in the lives of their closest friends has made the fact that their bodies are slowly shutting down more unavoidable than ever. This has led to even more fizzle than sizzle in an already dull relationship, and from the way things look when While We’re Young begins it seems our leads will be lost to the beast known as depression before too much time has passed.

One day, everything begins to change when a young filmmaker (Adam Driver) and his wife (Amanda Seyfried) make their admiration for the older filmmaker’s work known. This causes a spark of interest in the aging couple’s minds, and soon the two couples are having dinner, going on day dates, and generally spending all their time together. The younger pair seem to absorb the knowledge of the older generation, while our leads find ways to reconnect with their once lost excitement for life by watching the younger pair throw all caution and worry to the wind. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, at least at first, but soon we learn there are far more cracks in the foundation of this seemingly wonderful friendship than anyone could have imagined.

The charm in this story is obvious, and it’s helped greatly by the wonderful performances of everyone involved, but the message is never made clear. We don’t know if we are supposed to feel about essentially every major character when the story comes to a close, and as a result we have little reason to think about them as time goes on. It’s as if Baumbach came up with a great premise, developed a twist or two to keep people on their toes, then realized his deadline was approaching and found a place to cut things off rather than seeing them through to a fitting and justified conclusion. I hate to call a man this creative lazy, but between the familiar concepts, paper-thin characters, and lack of a real ending it’s hard to think of any other definition that fits.

I do give Baumbach credit for finding yet another unique way to present the crisis of identity, but that alone is not enough to make While We’re Young worthy of recommendation. The couples, while interesting, are little more than variations of characters found throughout his previous titles. The fact he makes everything feel new again is certainly deserving of merit, but I don’t know that I would go as far as saying it’s deserving of praise. It’s good, and while it lasts there is undeniable chemistry between the four leads, but when it’s all over and the credits roll you are left with almost nothing to take home. There is no grand notion of identity’s changing role in an individual’s life, nor is there any resolution to the problems various characters face. Like many of Baumbach’s stories, this one ends with life simply continuing on, and in this case that decision hurts the overall story far more than it helps.

There are far worse films in theaters today, but While We’re Young does not offer anything that makes me feel it’s something everyone must see. At best, this Baumbach original is a Netflix watch, and that is only if you’ve already exhausted everything else in your queue. If you haven’t, or if you simply have yet to start House of Cards, go ahead and watch that stuff first. While We’re Young can wait. Trust me.

GRADE: C

Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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