'While We're Young' film review: Touching, hilarious take on a midlife crisis
Director Noah Baumbach has tackled the coming-of-age teen years ("The Squid and the Whale") and the arrested development of modern twentysomethings ("Frances Ha") -- and his latest, "While We're Young" (opening in theaters nationwide April 10), takes on a full-on midlife and existential crisis.
In short: The lives of a middle-aged married couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) are overturned when a vibrant young couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) enters their lives. (Watch the trailer)
"While We're Young" is at its best when it focuses squarely on critiquing the young and the old -- and it feels shoehorned into a somewhat forced narrative between Stiller and Driver's characters.
Baumbach absolutely captures the freedom of youth and routine of a middle-aged couple's rut. Stiller and Watt's characters are a couple stuck in a routine - he is a filmmaker who has spent way too many years tinkering on his documentary while she bitterly resists joining the "baby cult." They are a career-driven couple married for years and unburdened by children, yet they are prisoners of their routine. The most compelling aspects of "Young" contrast the lives of this middle-aged couple and the untethered, free-spirited young couple they befriend.
"Young" richly depicts the differences between these two couples. One couple has a wall-filled with vinyl records, while the other has all their music stored on an iPhone. One couple casually peruses Netflix in bed, while the other sits in front of a knob-and-tube television watching well-loved VHS movies. Baumbach has taken a snapshot of what it means to be young and old in the modern world.
Where this film feels clunky is the dramatic narrative between Stiller and Driver's characters -- a story that focuses on the friendship, camaraderie and mentorship dynamic between an young filmmaker and a veteran documentarian. They are both interested in filmmaking, however, they have different ideals and ethics related to storytelling and truth. This conflict is the primarly plot driver of "Young," as the two men collaborate on a project.
Ideally, a simpler, leaner version of this film would have strongly focused on Watts and Stiller's characters - how just meeting such a vivacious young couple dramatically transforms the lives of the long-married couple. The storyline between Stiller and Driver's characters is fat that could have been trimmed - it feels like a preachy soapbox opportunity from a filmmaker about filmmaking.
Final verdict: "While We're Young" is an acutely aware and sharp swipe at a current generation of the young - who ironically appreciate old records and tapes - and the aging - whose lives languish in mundane daily habit. The essence of "Young" is an incredibly relatable and sweetly honest movie that approaches the beauty of "Frances Ha," however, just falls short of greatness due to an unnecessary and tedious character conflict.
"While We're Young" opens in wide release April 10 and is rated R for language.