Generation-gap comedy thriller meets hipster pastiche, with a score by LCD man James Murphy
What happens when Generation X-ers hit their mid-life crisis? That’s the central question of Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, a brilliant examination of ageing hipsterdom and the blind arrogance of youth. Brightly shot and pulling endless comedic punches, it might be the indie director’s most deliberate shot at mainstream success, its warmth making it more accessible than 2005’s The Squid And The Whale or 2012’s Frances Ha. But the 45-year-old director sticks firmly to his alternative roots – former Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz appears as a scruffy man-child, and, repeating his role in 2010’s masterpiece of modern malaise Greenberg, LCD Soundsystem man James Murphy provides an immaculate score.
Also retained from Greenberg is Ben Stiller, who shrugs his way through the central role of Josh, a jaded and not particularly talented New York “creative”. In The Squid And The Whale, Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) played an exaggerated version of Baumbach’s teenage self. Here, Stiller appears to be doing the same but 30 years down the line, playing a forty-something filmmaker who’s been working on his latest project for the past eight years. Adding to his ennui is the fact that his partner Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is the daughter of a successful director.
Finding that their friends – including Horovitz’s ageing hipster – are happy to exist in a smug Manhattan baby bubble, the childless pair befriend Jamie, a young filmmaker who attends one of Josh’s lectures, and his wife Darby. Josh is energised by their youth, a feeling Baumbach has said is inspired by “spending a lot of time with young people”. Played gloriously by Girls‘ Adam Driver and Mean Girls‘ Amanda Seyfried, the couple’s bogus retro lifestyle is a biting but warm pastiche of the craft beer-supping scenesters propping up artisan ale bars from Brooklyn to Manchester.
iPhone obsessives Josh and Cornelia are enchanted by the younger pair’s rustic affectations. We see Jamie’s dusty vinyl and the typewriter on a desk he made himself using reclaimed wood. “It’s like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it,” sighs Cornelia. Much of the comedy comes from this clash of cultures – when the foursome collectively forget the word for marzipan, Stiller tugs at his smartphone while Darby smiles beatifically and suggests, “Let’s just try and remember it.” There are gross-out laughs, too, including a brilliant scene at a shamanic ceremony where hippy hallucinogen ayahuasca is consumed and mass vomiting ensues, soundtracked jarringly by Vangelis’ Blade Runner theme.
It’s not just about taking the piss out of cool kids, though. The film takes a left turn into thriller territory when Jamie’s naivety turns out to be more calculated than first thought. Driver’s dark charisma shines, and While We’re Young reveals itself as a near-perfect portrait of two conflicting generations.