I suspect the extravagant praise lavished on Noah Baumbach’s films (“Frances Ha,” “Greenberg”) comes from those who can relate to the misery of snarky, neurotic New Yorkers. This story begins pretentiously with quotations from Henrik Ibsen’s “The Master Builder.” Immediately, it becomes obvious that forty-somethings Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) regret that the fizz has gone out of their marriage. Most of their friends have become child-centric – and they obviously haven’t. Read on…
When he isn’t teaching filmmaking to a continuing-education class, Josh has been working on a socio-political documentary for the past 10 years. Cornelia makes almond/avocado-flavored ice cream when she isn’t producing films with her famous documentarian father (Charles Grodin).
One night, after twenty-something Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) fawn over Josh’s lecture, he invites them to join him and Cornelia for dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant.
One encounter leads to another. As the self-involved older couple – Generation X’ers – become more and more infatuated with these insufferably energetic, Brooklyn hipsters, they feel as if they’re re-capturing their youth through the Millenials.
Not surprisingly, Jamie is an aspiring documentarian whose integrity and authenticity is immediately questionable; his obnoxious behavior reveals his relentlessly calculating penchant for exploitation.
Perhaps Woody Allen could have made their anxiety in parallel situations funny, but Noah Baumbach’s bantering goes off on strange tangents. After a predictably disastrous weekend visit to a commune with a whacked-out guru, there’s even a serious detour into the ethics of documentary filmmaking.
What does work is Baumbach’s casting: the talented ensemble is far better than the superficial material they’re working with. Ben Stiller nails frantic, middle-aged frustration, while Naomi Watts is relentlessly supportive. Adam Driver epitomizes sleazy selfishness – until Amanda Seyfried eventually catches on.
In his few scenes, Charles Grodin stoically evokes renowned filmmakers like Albert Maysles and/or Frederick Wiseman; his is the one character that’s totally authentic.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “While We’re Young” is a dreary, doleful 4, an irrelevant waste of time.