A pair of New York City 40-somethings fall victim to their paranoia about aging, stagnation and relevance in director-screenwriter Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young."
Just as Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are repulsed by how their social circle has become besotted with babies and parenting, 20-somethings Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) stumble into their lives, seemingly by accident.
Boom, it's the couples equivalent of bromance.
Stuck for 10 years trying to complete a documentary about how power structures work in America (his latest cut is 6.5 hours long), Josh is drawn to Jamie and Darby's unstructured creative freedom and inexpensive lifestyle.
Plus they're just so effortlessly hip. Jamie collects vinyl records and old typewriters, dissing addiction to high-tech. Darby makes artisanal ice cream. They like exploring abandoned subway tunnels and crashing "street beach" parties.
Cornelia ditches best pal Marina's baby class in favor of Darby's hip-hop aerobics. Josh warms to Jamie's fondness for fedoras and his flattery about Josh's first, obscure film. Jamie is interested in moviemaking, too.
Before you know it, Josh and Cornelia are neglecting their in-fant-obsessed friends (they tried having kids, it didn't work out) and hanging exclusively with Jamie and Darby, trying out new fashion statements and new recreational pastimes — like taking a vomit-inducing Peruvian drug administered by a fraudulent shaman at a hallucinogenic group experience.
Baumbach has made a smart, sharply observational movie about fear of aging, career ambition, the disillusionment that inevitably comes with decades of life experience and the inner need to feel cutting-edge relevant.
And the 40-somethings aren't his only target. Sooner or later the scrutiny extends past this odd-couples foursome to just about everybody (us, too) as the story turns the tables on who has compromised.
The movie is sharply cast with supporting players such as former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz as the graying new dad and Charles Grodin (wry and dry and funny as ever) as a legendary documentarian who just happens to be Cornelia's dad — and whose fame and success have turned Josh into a cluster bomb of resentments.
If you're as removed from hip as I am, expect to feel just how far out of it you are - to the point of having trouble following what the heck these people are talking about — and how pretentious and obsessive Brooklyn's privileged, wealthy, arty class can be. Baumbach has overstuffed this movie just a tad with ideas to try on for size.
Expect lots of laughs as well, and lots to chew on afterward about your life so far, what it amounts to and what you hope to get out of it with the time you have left. Maybe Josh and Cornelia's temporary insanity will look appealing. Maybe it will leave you praying you're not susceptible.
Either way, Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale," "Frances Ha") has delivered another clever take on contemporary American lifestyles.
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WHILE WE'RE YOUNG
Quality: * * * (out of four)
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rating: R for language
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Theater: Film Streams