Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are that mid-40s married couple. Both are documentary filmmakers; Josh has been working on his latest project for eight years, while Cornelia can’t quite escape the shadow of her famous documentary filmmaker father. They’ve missed the boat on having kids, and they’re afraid of becoming boring, old people. This all changes when they befriend hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried).
Young, wild and free, Jamie and Darby represent everything Josh and Cornelia aren’t and everything they want. Josh is insistent on hanging out with them, trying to recapture his youth, and Cornelia eventually warms up to it.
Jamie is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, while Darby makes her own ice cream. They listen to both vinyl and cassette tapes and have a typewriter, which are used solely for kitsch reasons. They also attend weekend retreats, where they consume the hallucinogen Ayahausca.
There’s an aura of smugness surrounding Jamie and Darby that I constantly rolled my eyes at. At times, it can feel like Jamie and Darby are exaggerated caricatures.
Baumbach is clearly mocking the hipster subculture, and as the movie goes on we begin to see, in subtle gestures, the selfish and inconsiderate nature of Jamie and Darby as they become more apparent. Yet, what makes the first half of “While We’re Young” good is that it not only mocks Jamie and Darby but Josh and Cornelia. Josh, in particular, is just as self-centered and ridiculous as Jamie but in different ways.
Cornelia isn’t as arrogant or self-centered as Josh but she’s just as insecure, and it’s their awareness of this insecurity that causes them to continue hanging out with Jamie and Darby. Josh and Cornelia’s pathetic need to adapt their lifestyle to Jamie and Darby’s and their refusal to accept that they’re getting older, provide the main source of comedy in the picture.
The second half is where the picture collapses on itself. It stops being a balanced look at the dynamics between Gen Y and Gen X and becomes a more narrowed, comedic attack on Millennials. Jamie and Darby apparently are part of some elaborate scheme to screw over and take advantage of people like Josh and Cornelia. Their relaxed, hipster attitude is only a guise used to get what they want. When Josh catches on to this “conspiracy,” he launches his own mini investigation to try and expose Jamie for the “fraud” he is.
The movie turns into a hipster mystery, and the climactic sequence somewhat resembles the final scene in a classic film noir in which the detective elaborately explains the mystery. In this case, Josh is the detective and Jamie is the criminal. The problem is, none of this funny, and it feels extremely heavy handed.
The entire second half of the movie is full of regurgitated insights and complaints about youth culture. Because Baumbach thinks he’s revealing new and clever insights, the attempts at humor become unbearably smug and oppressive. At a certain point, I stopped caring about what was happening.