Long before it was co-opted by cynical marketing types to sell iPads, craft beers and GoPro cameras to tech-hungry Millennials, the word authentic actually meant, you know, what it means. Keeping it real. Being true to yourself at all costs. And though the concept of genuine authenticity has been at the core of great literature and art since Shakespeare first penned that killer line about staying true to “thine own self”, keeping it real in the digital age has often been an uphill battle. Especially online, where any crank with a blog is a journalist and any joker with an iPhone is the next Tarantino. While knowing the difference between the poser and the poet is important, the timely, spot-on indie comedy While We’re Young seems to imply that sometimes, a measured appreciation of both is a lot more fun.
Directed by Oscar-nominated writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) While We’re Young stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a happily married NYC couple in their 40s who find their world upended by an unlikely friendship with a pair of married, twenty-something hipsters played by Adam Driver (Girls) and Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables).
If this sounds like an art-house retread of last summer’s raunchy stoner comedy Neighbors, you’re half right. For while both films feature their share of fun, age-related gags and requisite drug humor – Young’s hilarious hallucinogenic Ayahuasca ceremony scene is already the stuff of legend! – Baumbach clearly has something deeper to say about the ever-widening gap between Generations X and Y.
Some critics have called out Baumbach for trading in cheap, generational cliches and stereotypes (like Driver’s ever-present hipster Fedora), but I found the exact opposite to be true.
Rarely have I seen a more thoughtful and realistic portrayal of the aging of a generation (my generation!) that thought they were too cool to ever get old. Stiller’s performance in particular is imbued with a wistful undercurrent of emotion lurking just beneath the humor that is surprisingly touching.
Playing a struggling documentary filmmaker living in the long shadow cast by his much more famous documentarian father-in-law (played to perfection by a zen-like Charles Grodin), Stiller becomes a mentor of sorts to Driver’s character, who is himself a documentary filmmaker.
Though the comedic set pieces and breezy chemistry between the four leads is the heart of the film, the engine that really drives the movie is the bigger generational question of what it means to live an authentic life as an artist in the internet age.
For Stiller and Watts, whose character produces her father’s films, it might mean deciding not to have kids, after a series of miscarriages and painful IVF treatments, and choosing to focus their energies on their work. While for Driver and Seyfried it may be living an almost-entirely analog existence where VHS, vinyl, typewriters, and pretty much any other technology that pre-dates them, is just as vital to their craft as Seyfried’s homemade ice cream.
Baumbach doesn’t offer easy answers for anyone and, honestly, that’s part of the fun.
Despite a lovely cinematic courtship – complete with “street beach” parties, subway tunnel hikes and funky, hip hop dance classes – where both couples are so caught up in the shiny newness of it all that they lose site of who they really are, things inevitably take a turn for the worse about midway through the film (I won’t ruin it for you). But here again, Baumbach shows his mastery of tone – and keeps the proverbial “street beach” ball afloat – by finding dry, pithy humor in even the most awkward of situations.
And what we are left with at the end of the film is a wry, beautifully realized ensemble comedy that is equal parts funny, sad, real, playful, heartfelt, and above all else, authentic in the extreme.
Currently playing on select Qantas, British Airways and American flights worldwide, While We’re Young is also available via streaming on Google Play, VUDU and iTunes.