The opening film of the Glasgow Film Festival; While We’re Young is a deceptively smart comedy that will have you squirming in your seats with repeated twinges of recognition. You’ll hate yourself for knowing every nuance on screen about growing old disgracefully. And you’ll love every minute of watching it.
Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are settled and comfy in their lives. Unlike most of their friends, they’ve never had kids and a baby is not on the agenda for various reasons. Josh has been toiling away on making a documentary for nearly a decade, trying to follow up a successful debut. He’s happy enough to trundle along as he realises his eyesight might be failing and his back hurts a bit more than it did in his youth. Suddenly the couple’s cosy existence is shattered by the arrival of two youngsters who seem to be living life to the full. Aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) are free-spirits, floating along going from party to party and having few worries. Josh and Cornelia see an opportunity to fit in once more with a crowd who aren’t always thinking about baby-sitters and quiet nights in, but Jamie might not be all he appears to be.
At first glance, you might think you’ve seen this film before. Ben Stiller plays a normal guy who has been put upon by life and veers towards a rage-induced meltdown. Adam Driver appears as the perpetually quirky easy-going “dude” who can’t help but win you over with his charm. The action is set to the knowing mumble-core dialogue of director Noah Baumbach and looks like every other US Indie of the last two decades.
That about sums it up. Right?
All of the above are true, but that doesn’t include the humour. While We’re Young is a devastatingly funny film that encapsulates our fear of growing old. Of being uncool. Of missing out on what is on-trend. It’s done in such a way that you won’t mind the fact that you are the butt of every joke. If you identify with the younger “hipsters” in the film, you lack all moral fibre and have almost no idea of the bigger picture. If you see yourself as the older, more settled types, then you look desperate and haggard by life itself. Either way, Baumbach gives you enough ammunition to hit out and laugh at “the other lot”.
The plot delves into jealousy and the ethics of what we do in life. Ben Stiller somehow manages to turn every onscreen trait of his that has infuriated you in the past into a good thing. The perpetually flummoxed look on his face is endearing and we share his pain when no-one sides with him later on. In his attempts to expose Jamie’s questionable approach to filmmaking, Josh becomes increasingly desperate to turn on the man he both figuratively and literally looked up to. It’s clever acting by both men. They usually coast through performances, rarely stretching themselves beyond the caricatures we know them for. Instead, here we get a sweet bromance that goes horribly wrong, but in an entirely believable way.
Credit must go to Baumbach too. He delivers a script that has superb observations on how our previous knowledge of movie relationship dynamics are actually quite wrong. He subverts the conventions of old and young to such a great extent that you will nod your head consistently in agreement with what he is saying.
Outside of all the Oscar films that you have already heard so much about, this is the first great film of 2015.