Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg opened with Greta Gerwig’s character, a young woman working as a wealthy man’s personal assistant, trying to merge into traffic, saying “Are you gonna let me in?” Baumbach’s latest, While We’re Young, begins with a quote from Ibsen’s The Master Builder in which a young woman suggests to a dying architect that he “open the door to the younger generation.” While We’re Young is in some ways a recontextualization of Greenberg; in both films Ben Stiller plays a man trapped psychologically by his emotional hangups and professional failures, and who finds himself reinvigorated by a relationship with a much younger person. But rather than return to that film’s tentative romance, While We’re Young instead expands on that one line Greenberg says to a bunch of young people at a party: “I hope I die before I end up meeting one of you in a job interview.”
Stiller and Naomi Watts play wealthy New York couple Josh and Cornelia, he a frustrated documentarian, she a documentary producer and daughter of a famous, Maysles-like filmmaker. Their friends are all having babies, much to their dismay (a previous miscarriage ended their plans for children), and Josh’s inability to complete a long-gestating work weighs heavily on their marriage. A (seemingly) chance encounter with a young couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Drive and Amanda Seyfried) seems a revelation to both of them, though, as they find themselves attempting to mirror the younger couple’s apparently free-spirited behavior. Jamie is an aspiring documentarian himself, and Josh eagerly tries to establish a mentor relationship with him, while Cornelia is strongly attracted to Darby’s lack of entanglements and marital hangups. Long story short, eventually it becomes clear that Jamie and Darby aren’t quite as guileless as it initially seemed. Josh is increasingly angered by what he sees as deliberate deceptions and ethical lapses, which pushes Cornelia further away from him.
a sort of gentle reassurance that it’s OK to just do you
Baumbach crucially refuses to take sides. While We’re Young isn’t cautionary “Kids these days” snark nor is it a story of an “older” (Josh and Cornelia can’t be much past their mid-40s) couple rediscovering their youth. The contrasts between the two at first seem like cheap jokes (idely surfing Roku channels vs. self-conciously collecting vintage vinyl), but eventually the film settles on the idea that the couples’ respective experiences and lifestyles aren’t necessarily in conflict. Ultimately Josh and Cornelia’s “lesson” is that they spend way too much time trying to behave a certain way or appreciate certain things because they believe they’re appropriate rather than because they desire to, something that doesn’t reveal itself until the closing moments, a sort of gentle reassurance that it’s OK to just do you.