While We're Young
When you reach a certain point in life you are able to look back and marvel at the changes that have occurred. Baby boomers have watched technology explode, arguably to a greater extent than any of the time in human history. This is common when people who have seen so many changes in their lives people the more recent generation for us to think that youth has nothing to teach the more mature. I recently received the movie that examines that very interaction, ‘While we’re Young’. The film is the latest opus for Brooklyn born filmmaker, Noah Baumbach in true independent film tradition Mr. Baumbach wore several hats; director screenwriter and producer. With a budget of only $10,000,000 this project managed to attract the services of some excellent actors among Mr. Baumbach’s other works are a number of notable firms including, ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, ‘Margot at the Wedding’, ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ and ‘The Squid and the Whale’, another good cross generational relationships which guarded him an Academy award nomination for Best screenplay. Even among such noteworthy movies as just listed, ‘While we’re Young’ ranks as one of his best films to date. This movie is also one that exemplifies why there is always going to be a need for independent cinema. In difficult economic times such as this, most of the mainstream studios are looking for films that can provide an incredible return on their investment. A movie such as this course relatively little to make it felt short of recouping the investment domestic box office and Bailey broke even with global revenues. This is a gentle film, devoid of daring stunts intricate gadgets. What the audience does receive from the film is a beautifully crafted examination of the emotional and psychological differences between generations and how their interaction can mutually affect change in them. You watch this film in order to be swept into the lives of four exceptionally drawn characters.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia Schrebnick (Naomi Watts) over middle-aged couple living in New York City. Despite the number of years they’ve been together lately they have their relationship is on somewhat shaky ground. A significant contributor to this state emanates from Josh’s work. He is a documentarian was current subject is Ira Mandelstam (Peter Yarrow), an archetypical liberal intellectual. Josh has found himself creatively blocked during the post-production phase of his current film. It appears that one of his favorite themes for his works is the sociopolitical climate we live in. This is demonstrated by his previous opus,’ The Power Elite’, which was based on the sociological theories of Columbia professor, C. Wright Mills. Josh is not at a point his writing career can be seen as a means to sustainable family finances. For that he works as a professor in the University.
Another issue in their lives that is placing stress upon the relationship is that Josh and Cornelia have been trying to get pregnant. Cornelia especially has become very despondent about this is the last two pregnancies ended in miscarriages. This has been a growing problem among older couples. So much of their lives have been placed in their careers having a family has been put off, frequently, until it is too late. After giving a lecture at his college, Josh was a younger couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby Massey (Amanda Seyfried), proclaiming that are fans of not only his work and Cornelia’s father, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), was an accomplished filmmaker. As it turns out Jamie has aspirations of filmmaking and is anxious to discuss the craft and gain insight from Josh. During their initial time together Josh is greatly intrigued by the raid that Jamie and Darby embrace their lives with such fervor and freedom. Invigorated by their association, Cornelia and Josh begin spending an increasing amount of time with their new friends. As it turns out Josh and Cornelia are not the only ones benefiting from the new friendship. As Josh opens up to Jamie about his latest project he encourages Jamie try making his own documentary. The proposed topic is reconnecting with a friend found on Facebook. Several ways this encapsulates the central theme of the story; infusing something that is traditional with aspects of modern culture.
Jamie and Darby invite Josh and Cornelia to attend an ayahuasca with them. This is a spiritual ceremony that employs the use of consciousness altering botanicals. While elucidating Cornelia begins kissing Jamie. Later, Cornelia joins Jamie’s project as a producer. They do manage to find Jamie’s friend from Facebook, Kent Arlington (Brady Corbet) but the reunion is unfortunately not completely joyful. Kent has been hospitalized subsequent to a suicide attempt. During the tour in Afghanistan Kent was involved in a massacre that left him with posttraumatic stress syndrome. It was depression from the PTSD that led Kent to attempt to take his own life. Immediately Josh sees this as a much larger central theme for his documentary. Obviously this should be a far more interesting subject than that used in Josh’s film. Josh finds that he is having trouble financing the rest of his movie when he cannot even get a spark of interest for a hedge fund investor, Dave (Ryan Serhant). Much of this was due to Josh’s presentation which was unfocused and obfuscated the theme. At a loss for what to do next Josh goes to his father-in-law for advice. The professional criticism of Leslie is harsh and in the ensuing argument thing soon turns very personal when Leslie brings up Josh and Cornelia’s inability to give him a grandchild. The fervor that Josh once felt for his own film dissipates painfully as Jamie’s film is released and met with much praise. What hurts Josh is the positive reaction by Leslie and Dave. As the story moves into the third act, Josh is arguing with Cornelia and Darby is becoming increasingly upset with how self-centered Jamie has become a success goes to his head. When evidence is uncovered that Jamie staged much of the interaction with Kent, Josh is about to take the information public rethinks that action he finds out that Darby is breaking up with Jamie.
This is the kind of story that can only be told within the context of an independent film. It is driven by the individual character arcs the synergy created by their interactions. It is also bold enough to struggle comedy and drama in a uniquely exciting fashion. Obviously one of the main themes is the angst of the company’s middle-age. What is not been encompassed in their youth now looms over them as impossibilities. Josh yearns to be a productive creative person but it seems that life is conspiring against him preventing his performance of his dreams. His inability to create a new film is tragically echoed in his failure to become a father. Initially the younger couple appeared to be fresh, filled with an exciting energy so different from anything Josh and Cornelia have ever encountered. This led to an even greater disappointment when Josh discovers that such enthusiasm is a veneer, easily eroded by the overwhelming need for success. It appears to Josh that the men that bring so much disappointment into his life, i.e. Leslie and Dave eventually become steppingstones to Jamie’s own success. Instead of Josh being invigorated by the youthful energy of Jamie, the younger auteur appeared to be draining Josh. This movie is an emotional tour de force with a directorial style and moving screenplay are brought to life by the cast of Ms. Watts and Ms. Seyfried have established themselves in both mainstream and independent films as powerful actresses with amazing emotional range and psychological depth. What is surprising is the performance turned in by Ben Stiller. While many know him predominantly for his comic work in such films as the ‘Night at the Museum’ trilogy or the Fockers franchise, his performance here is just a reminder of something that is well-known particularly on the stage; truly successful comedy is more difficult to achieve the drama. Some of the best trained actors have gained high regard by using the comedic experience to produce powerful dramatic performances. This is definitely the case with Mr. Stiller as demonstrated here.