Confessions of an Aging Artist: Baumbach Humorously Reflects on Filmmaking Ethics and Middle Age
In some ways the complimentary antithesis to his last work of whimsy, Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach‘s latest film, While We’re Young, clamps the cantankerous jaws of midlife crisis around hollow hipster nostalgia, inevitably asking where the importance of authenticity remains in our current media savvy culture and why we often seem to socially settle in and close up with age, ultimately losing touch with the contagious excitement of free flowing youthful creative energy. Likely the creative result of Baumbach’s relationship with his significantly younger significant other, Greta Gerwig, the notoriously bitter filmmaker seems to be grappling with his own gradual aging and inevitable disconnection from youth. Filmmaking may be a medium of immortality, but both he and his documentarian protagonist are beginning to realize that they are feeling their age, no longer relating to the ironically inclined millennials now infiltrating the business.
While We’re Young centers around Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller, reteaming with Baumbach for a second, much warmer and funnier time), a long stagnant veteran documentary filmmaker and his wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts), whose lives have become a series of apathetic obligations sorely lacking the passion they once shared for their careers and each other. While friends their age are beginning to have kids, Josh and Cornelia can only mourn the fact that that boat has sailed. Upon meeting Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a model Brooklynite hipster couple nearly half their age, the Srebnick’s over worn grooves of routine are seemingly smoothed over by an uninhibited creative energy that seems to erupt from within them in overly generous abundance.
After being professionally flattered by Jamie following a speaking engagement on documentary filmmaking, Josh opens up to the possibility of becoming what one might call friends, despite their glaring differences. Feeling the flames of inspiration warming their old bones, double dates soon lead to potential creative collaborations – something that was once out of the question for Josh. For him, self-sufficiency has always been a matter of pride and professionalism, which is why he’s rejected the help of his wife’s father (Charles Groden), a Wisemen-esque documentary legend willing to pull some strings (keep an eye out for a faux Criterion edition of his landmark film, Wedding). As things become more fluid between the disparate couples, Jamie’s film project in which Josh and Cornelia have offered to participate begins to show signs of disingenuous foul play. Where trust and collaboration at first fostered creative inspiration, only cloying insecurities and differences in artistic ethics remain (succinctly depicted within the film’s ideological apex, a moving award acceptance speech on film form and ethics by Groden).
Fittingly, Baumbach paints an ironic portrait of generations fighting technological currents in reverse. Working hard to reject modern gadgetry, Jamie and Darby spin stacks of vinyl, refuse to embrace the instantaneous wonders of Google and consume ice cream they’ve churned out by the sweat of their own brow. Josh and Cornelia on the other hand are happy to tap away on their various Apple products, in awe of the nostalgia emanating from their new found friends because they truly feel nostalgic. They lived through these technological phases, so by inducing artistic nostalgia, they led by the hand into a trap built to gain a professional advantage. Though often a bit heavy handed in its oral deliverance of this narrative framework, it is here that Baumbach’s script shines.
Within this fulfilling story construct, While We’re Young is stuffed with endless kitschy cliches that garner laughs and eye rolls in equal measure. Baumbach’s running social portraiture has never been as broadly conventional in his humor, but thanks to the leading quartet’s surprisingly reserved comedic turns, his self reflective film of artistic authenticity and the acceptance of one’s age remains strikingly funny, despite its heavy handed tendencies.
Reviewed on September 10th at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 94 Minutes