Noah Baumbach, who has never been afraid of exploring topics that are liable to make one extremely squeamish with regard to exploring the spectrum of human psychological trauma, has done the unthinkable with his latest film: toe the delicate line between representing both sides of the "old"/"young" panorama.
In While We're Young, his eleventh film in the role of "just" screenwriter, Baumbach explores the extremes of twenties adulthood versus forties adulthood. The former involves a free-spirited, rose-colored glasses outlook on life, whereas the latter is all about reconciling with the fact that you're not young anymore and that you haven't been for quite some time. To portray this contrast, Baumbach wields the couple foils of Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Jamie (the always vexatious Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried, a long way from Karen in Mean Girls). Josh, a 44-year-old documentarian who has been working on the same documentary for nearly ten years, finds renewed interest in work and his life upon meeting Jamie and Darby in a continuing education class he teaches. Soon, he finds himself at dinner with them and Cornelia, riveted by everything they have to say--the wide-eyedness with which they still seem to view the world.
As an aspiring documentarian, Jamie seeks to absorb all the knowledge (and, ultimately, contacts) he can from Josh, who is just happy to have someone who looks up to and appreciates him. Cornelia, too, takes a liking to Darby in the wake of her best friend, Marina (Maria Dizzia), having a baby girl named Willow (telling of the Brooklyn location they all inhabit) and becoming consumed with what Cornelia calls the "baby cult." With Darby, she can simply go to hip hop classes and be (something of) herself.
So intense does the connection between the four of them become that they even attend an Ayahuasca ceremony together. Upon telling Marina this, she asks Cornelia what exactly that is, to which Cornelia explains it involves taking drugs and cleansing your demons by throwing them up--all while dressed in white. At the ceremony, Darby takes the annoying hipster factor up an even higher notch by saying, "I was falling asleep on the L train and forgot what the shape of a pineapple looked like." Indeed, it seems that both Darby and Jamie are intended as a hyper-parody of hipster youth culture. They live in Bushwick, after all, and watch VHS tapes and make artisanal ice cream and go to the junkyard to find wood to build tables. This contrast is paired quite well against a montage of Cornelia and Josh trying desperately to remain current with their use of phones, computers and Apple TV. The irony is rather obvious: the young seek a return to the past, clinging to some nostalgia they never actually experienced, while the old wish desperately to fit in with the present.
The expectations of how the plot will play out gets somewhat turned on its ear by the end of Act Two, with Jamie revealing himself to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, of which Darby notes, "You know how when you see a couple on the side of the road hitchhiking, you're more likely to pick them up than if it was just one guy? Well, that's what I am for Jamie." The paradox of Jamie being this hungry-for-success, ruthless sort of fame-seeker is that it vaguely echoes another character Ben Stiller himself once played in Reality Bites: that of Michael Grates, a young TV executive in charge of reality programming for an MTV-like network. Granted, he was far more well-intentioned, perhaps a sign of the times (or is that just nostalgia talking?).
Although Baumbach wavers a bit on the message he's ultimately trying to convey (which seems to be that both youngs and olds are flawed and must grapple with equally shitty circumstances at particular crossroads in their life), While We're Young fosters a belief in accepting oneself--age bracket be damned. It also promotes the notion that it is possible for millennials and Gen Xers to be friends--so long as Gen Xers watch their back at all times. It's like Josh says at the end of the film: "He's not evil. Just young."