It might seem premature for filmmaker Noah Baumbach and his
screen alter-ego Ben Stiller to be having a mid-life crisis, along with wife
Naomi Watts, but the situation is explored with empathy and wit in While We’re Young. Although the finished
product is a bit lumpy it still represents an individual voice and point of
view, within the framework of a contemporary comedy infused with the Woody
Allen-ish flavor of New York City.
Stiller plays a egotistic documentary filmmaker who’s been stalled
on his latest project for a decade. His mostly-happy marriage to Watts is
shadowed by the fact that they’ve given up on having children after several
failed attempts. Now, as their friends become parents, they find themselves
marginalized and unable to share experiences with moms and dads their age. Stiller
is also keenly aware that he’s never lived up to his potential, all the more so
as the son-in-law of a legendary documentarian (nicely played by Charles
Into his life steps an outgoing young man (Adam Driver) and
his wife (Amanda Seyfried) who seem to represent everything he isn’t: glib,
assertive, and spontaneous. Driver insinuates himself into Stiller’s life,
personally and professionally. Soon Watts catches her husband’s fever as the 40-ish
couple make a desperate stab at recapturing their youth.
As writer and director, Baumbach casts a keen eye on the absurdities
of urban life as well as the issues facing traditional filmmakers at a time
when anyone and everyone can create “media” on the spot. This aspect of the
story becomes a bit heavy-handed but is rescued by the humanity in Stiller and
Watts’ characterizations; we never lose sight of the fact that they love each
other. Stiller’s role is tailor-made and Watts delivers yet another impressive
performance—with a lightness of touch that’s rare in comedies these days—as a
woman at a crossroads.
Baumbach pokes fun at his characters’ pretensions but allows
us to empathize with them at almost every turn, until Stiller goes off the deep
end. The filmmaker’s attempt to balance social satire and farce doesn’t always
work, but While We’re Young is smart
and funny enough to overcome its flaws.