Comedy really is hard. So it’s a kick when a filmmaker gets it right, as Noah Baumbach does in this stingingly funny take on aging. While We’re Young, which finds humor in the broken places, reunites Baumbach with his Greenberg star Ben Stiller. Stiller’s Josh Srebnick isn’t the total asshole this time. But Josh is just as neurotic. He’s a documentarian who’s been fiddling for a decade on his latest work. His wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts), inadvertently put Josh in the shadow of docu master Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin). He’s her dad.
But the real threat in the mind of fortysomething Josh is youth, expressed in a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder that opens the film. Josh and Cornelia feel alienated from their age-appropriate, kid-focused BFFs, played by Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz. Cornelia and Josh have adjusted to being childless.
What to do? Fraternize with twentysomethings in the persons of Jamie (Girls‘ Adam Driver), a wanna-be filmmaker who kisses Josh’s ass at every opportunity, and his wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who takes Cornelia to hip-hop dance classes. Baumbach scores many a caustic laugh at the expense of watching Josh and Cornelia try to recapture their youth. But compassion also seeps through the cracks. Stiller is killer at blending wit with physical comedy. His scenes with the gifted Driver, playing a careerist in hipster’s clothing, escalate into generational comic warfare of a high order. Though Baumbach lets his themes run off course as the film progresses, he sure as hell touches a raw nerve.