While We’re Young has one shot where Josh (Ben Stiller) and Jamie (Adam Driver) are cycling towards us. Josh strains something in his back, forcing him to stop in the middle of a busy New York street. He manages a yelp to his younger friend, though Jamie hears nothing and keeps on pedaling, no hands, and a turning bus eclipses the old man in the background. The whole movie does this balancing act – on one side a restrained, breezy comedy, the other a harsh exploration of ageing and artistic integrity.
Josh, whose career has been stalled for 8 years, teaches documentary at a local college. At the end of one class he meets Jamie, an aspiring documentarian, and his girlfriend Darcy (Amanda Seyfried). The couple is charming, seamlessly inviting themselves to lunch with the would-be professor and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts). Thus the four become a foursome, and the younger couple revitalises the older with their energy and sense for urban adventure. They are the type of hipsters who make their own ice cream, have large record collections and wander through discarded railway tunnels for fun. Darcy helps Cornelia realise her knack for hip-hop dancing, Jamie helps Josh pick out a youthful fedora (as if there were such a thing).
Writer/director Noah Baumbach let’s this relationship unfold in a clever montage, predominantly filled with visual jokes about technology and youthful ingenuity. The soundtrack is appropriately eclectic, jumping effortlessly from 2Pac, to Survivor, and a tinny, lullaby version of David Bowie’s “Golden Years”. As Josh’s artistic frustrations and paranoia take hold, the visual rhythm and score spiral with him. Apparently Jamie – vocally admired by Josh for his honesty, generosity and inventiveness – turns out to be not so honest or generous, and far more inventive.
Over the years, Stiller has endeared himself to us as a hopeless fool who is humiliated completely, and survives a better man. That has been his trademark since Flirting with Disaster (1996), and most famously in Meet the Parents (2000). The great thing about Greenberg (2010), the earlier Baumbach/Stiller collaboration, was following this character in a new and interesting direction. This film is as surprising in its individual scenes, though the arc feels somewhat familiar. On the other hand, that makes the casting of Adam Driver a kind of master-stroke, with his baby-face towering over Stiller’s weary brow. He’s the smooth-talking villain in a thriller disguised as comedy, where nothing is more sinister than youth.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 97 minutes
While We’re Young will be screening in Australian cinemas from 16th April 2015 through Roadshow Films