Tonight, I caught what was billed as The Surprise Screening at The New York Film Festival – “While We’re Young”, a comedy starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried; it’s directed by Noah Baumbach.
When a 40-ish couple befriends a couple in their 20’s, their own relationship is immediately rejuvenated – but when they find out the younger couple may not be all they’re cracked up to be, will it end both the friendship and their marriage?
Josh and Cornelia (Stiller and Watts) appear to be a happy childless couple in their early 40’s, but they are increasingly feeling left out when their friends in a similar age-range have been having children. After a couple of miscarriages years ago, Cornelia no longer wishes to try and Josh claims to be content with not having children in exchange for having their freedom. Instead, they choose to concentrate on their respective careers: Josh is a documentary filmmaker and Cornelia is a producer who works primarily on Josh’s films as well as those of her father (Charles Grodin), who is also a documentarian. Although Josh has been making his films for quite some time, he’s finding himself stalled in his current project.
Teaching a filmmaking seminar, Josh meets Jamie and Darby (Driver and Seyfried), a married couple in their mid-twenties. Jamie expresses his admiration for Josh, adding that he has seen much of his work, including some of the more obscure documentaries; in their conversation, Jamie admits to being an aspiring documentary director himself and invites Josh and Cornelia to dinner so they could advise him on his career. The two couples seem to hit it off and soon become pals, hanging out with each other frequently; this younger couple has such an impact on Josh and Cornelia that they begin to change, becoming more like Jamie and Darby. Their marriage, which seemed stuck in neutral almost as much as Josh’s film, is greatly revitalized.
Seeing that they’ve become good friends by that point, Jamie imposes upon Josh and Cornelia to assist him with the documentary he’s currently shooting; since Josh’s own film is somewhat in limbo as he’s had difficulty securing financing, Josh agrees to participate as a camera operator on Jamie’s documentary and Cornelia consents to be his producer. When Jamie shows people a rough cut of his film, Josh becomes jealous when it’s well-received. However, the closer Josh gets to both Jamie and his work, the more he sees the youthful aspirant as being a manipulative, conniving phony. Doing a little detective work, Josh finally has the goods on Jamie. But if Josh attempts to expose Jamie, will he be able to survive both the end of their friendship as well as the possible end of his marriage to Cornelia?
I’m glad I took the chance on purchasing a ticket to this Surprise Screening; it was definitely a surprise of the most pleasant kind. “While We’re Young” is not only very funny but also truthful as well. The movie opens in an odd way: with a snippet of dialog from Henrik Ibsen’s stage play “The Master Builder”. In the conversation, the title character expresses concern about the encroachment of young people in the town where they live and his concerned wife tries to allay his fears. This unusual choice turns out to be an excellent thematic setup for the story that is about to unfold; as both writer and director, Baumbach is at his creative best here.
Adam Driver’s portrayal of Jamie is what really stands out in “While We’re Young”; he plays this young man as the most affected, obnoxious, conceited person imaginable – he hypocritically decries ambition, yet he’s secretly ambitious himself. Of particular note are various physical mannerisms that Driver uses as Jamie; there are some scenes where he implements some rather unorthodox hand gestures and there’s one scene in particular in a restaurant where Jamie goes to embrace Josh but gives the impression that he’s almost trying to smother the man who’s been trying to serve as both his friend and mentor.
Following the screening, Baumbach and the cast held a question and answer session with the audience. Baumbach said that like Josh, he had a disappointment in one of his films, “Margot At The Wedding” and suggested that Stiller had a similar experience with “Cable Guy”. Driver said that he felt he learned a considerable amount by working with Grodin, who, he felt, was very honest and straightforward as an actor. When Baumbach was asked for advice by a teenager who also wanted to be a filmmaker, the audience groaned, but the writer-director cleverly responded by joking that the boy should follow in the footsteps of the character of Jamie by latching on to an established filmmaker and riding his coattails.
Some notes about this review: this was not the world premiere of “While We’re Young”; that occurred at another film festival a few weeks ago – it had previously played at The Toronto International Film Festival. So, I believe this may have been the U.S. premiere, but I could be wrong. If you are interested in seeing this movie, I’m afraid you’re going to have to be patient – it won’t be released in this country until some time next year. Because the exact release date here hasn’t been determined yet, I was unsuccessful in finding either a movie poster (which I usually like to include at the beginning of the review) or a trailer (which is typically placed at the end of my reviews). So, instead of a movie poster, I found a still from the film; lacking a trailer, I instead was able to locate a recent interview with the film’s stars when they appeared at TIFF.