Review: While We’re Young – a savagely funny shot from the hip

Mark Reynolds

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts face up to the terrors of lost youth in Noah Baumbach’s rueful, sharp comedy about ageing and artistic truth.

While We’re Young is a knockabout comedy that casts a forgiving eye on the disappointments and compromises of mid-life. It may lack the I’ll-shoot-what-I-want chutzpah of Frances Ha or the autobiographical introspection of The Squid and the Whale, but Baumbach hits a sparkling new groove of crowd-pleasing belly-laughs.

Stiller’s Josh is a documentary maker mired in a convoluted, time-devouring project about the political and militaristic machinations of the last half-century. Plagued by fatigue and self-doubt, he is invigorated by the enthusiasms of twenty-something filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver), who turns up at one of his lectures claiming to be a fan.

Josh and his wife Cornelia (Watts) are mesmerised by Jamie’s world, comprising an achingly cool Brooklyn loft from which his young wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) runs an artisanal ice-cream business, a penchant for old tech (typewriters, vinyl records, VHS tapes, board games and bicycles), natural highs and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge readily shared. But as the older couple misguidedly try for size the outlooks, habits and leisurewear of their new friends, does the whole hipster façade cover up something more contemptible and controlling?

Stiller’s fretful agitation, persecution and suspicion are punctuated by Watts’ eye-catching loose-limbed zeal for slapstick. Driver walks a fine line between a sense of entitlement and wide-eyed wonder, while Seyfried is underused but assured as Jamie’s sweet, self-deprecating accessory. Ex-Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz does a terrific turn as a stay-at-home dad with rewired priorities, while Charles Grodin plays Josh’s father-in-law Leslie, an old-school documentarian, with quiet authority.

Acknowledging the freedoms and compensations that can come with ageing appropriately, While We’re Young hilariously captures the futility and avoidable perils of attempting to bridge the generation gap.