Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 5, 2017)
A relationship tale for those of us in our 40s, 2015’s While We’re Young introduces us to married couple Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts). They’re stuck in a middle-aged rut and can’t figure out how to get out of it.
Josh teaches a documentary film class, and that’s where he meets 20-something lovers Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). The two couples become pals and spend plenty of time together. We follow the Josh/Cornelia and Jamie/Darby interactions as well as how they impact the older couple.
Incoherence, thy name is While We’re Young! An odd, unconvincing mishmash of genres and plot elements, the film fails to find its way much of the time.
Maybe I should praise the movie’s grand ambitions rather than condemn them. Maybe I should applaud the filmmakers’ refusal to suffer the constraints of typical storytelling.
Maybe I would if Young didn’t offer such a random, bizarre affair. Based on my plot synopsis, you’ll probably expect the movie to provide a generational tale in which the older Josh and Cornelia try to keep up with the younger Joneses, fail, and learn to love middle age.
And you’d be right – for part of the time. Oddly, though, Young eventually develops into an unexpected Usual Suspects vibe with a Hitchcockian feel. Heck, Watts even starts to look like frequent Hitchcock leading lady Grace Kelly after a while!
This doesn’t work. For much of the film, we get a movie that wants to have its Wes Anderson and eat it too. We find a tale that casts a broad net of mockery, one that makes fun of 20-something hipsters, 40-somethings who refuse to grow old gracefully and baby-obsessed mothers.
Although this creates some amusement, it means we find few sympathetic characters. Jamie, Darby and their Millennial pals exist as little more than smug hipster stereotypes, roles that can’t ever become likeable or realistic. Josh and Cornelia attempt to turn into three-dimensional people, but they don’t quite get there either, partly due to the bizarre plot twists.
As mentioned, the story veers down unexpected paths as it goes. Rather than embrace its logical “generation clash” narrative, the movie turns into a weird thriller in which Josh desperately tries to expose Jamie.
Why? I have no idea. Maybe the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a good ending for the characters so they opted for something kooky.
I do know it doesn’t work. Granted, the more predictable parts of Young don’t fare all that well either, but at least they show internal consistency.
When Young embraces its inner Hitchcock, though, it goes off the deep end. An unsatisfying melange of genres, the film lacks much to make it interesting on a consistent basis.