Lowdown: A middle aged couple is revived by befriending a couple in their twenties.
Like with many movies starring Ben Stiller, starting with Zoolander, I find much to identify with in the lead characters from While We’re Young. They, Josh & Cornelia (Stiller and Naomi Watts) are a husband and wife team in their mid forties whose life has been left, unintentionally, on cruise control and who are lagging behind their peers in the “let’s have children” department. Gone is the spark that was there when they met; gone is the vitality, the need to prove oneself. There is no spontaneity, no lust and no innovation. All of those fell victim to the regular grind of making ends meet when you’re just an average person. [I have to add that, for average people, our couple here seems to live a fairly comfortable and financial hardship free life.]
This ongoing steady state of life is disturbed, in a positive way, when Josh meets Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver & Amanda Seyfried), a couple in their twenties attending a lacklustre lecture of his on the subject of documentary making. It’s not like Josh has much of a record in documentaries to rely on, yet Jamie with his spirit of entrepreneurship seems quite enthusiastic with the prospect of learning from the old master. The two couples seem to hit it off, spending much time with one another, with mostly the forty year olds learning from the twenty year olds and in the process reinvigorating their lives.
Something’s gotta give, though. Cornelia & Josh might have new young friends, but it comes at the price of losing their regular friends. Then there are the questions of what the younger couple’s motivation with this relationship really is, or the sometimes blatantly obvious fact that a forty year old is not meant to do twenty year old things.
As these themes are explored, While We’re Young tends to deteriorate into your typical Ben Stiller movie rather than keep a steady hold on the questions that should find any middle age person listening with much interest. On the positive side, Watts does her usual excellent self; again and again (refer to Adore, St Vincent) she is proving herself a unique acting talent that can pretty much portray any role thrown at her. Just in case you hear vicious claims along the lines of Meryl Streep being the one and only truly excellent female actress. Me, I find I’m enjoying Watts’ movies much more than Streep’s.
Regardless of the tendency of While We’re Young to deteriorate into a simplistic comedy, one has to admit it does deal in matters affecting the silent majority of us. Like, those of us who looked forward to having kids and were promised Everest high peaks of joy that will come along, only to find ourselves barely able to cope with the struggle. This quest for revival that Josh & Cornelia are going through in the movie is the same quest I have been living through myself as I try to make more of life than the mundane routine of setting my child up for the day, and then making it through work, allows. I, too, tried to open myself to this world and expose myself to what it has to offer, not by hanging out with younger people but rather by travelling around.
Take breakfast as an example. One of the things that happened to me when I migrated out of Israel, not intentionally but rather through scarcity, was a change of diet. My typical breakfast changed into the more common in Western societies meal of milked up cereal. Like Josh & Cornelia, I enjoyed the change at first. Like Cornelia & Josh, it took me a while – a long while – to realise that as nice as cereal can be, it is probably not the best thing for me. And now, eventually, I came back to through the full circle: I am back to eating almost exactly what I used to eat prior to my big migration event. It is different now, though: what I used to do in the past because it was the sum of everything I knew is now done because it is what I happen to love best after vastly expanding my familiarity with what the world has to offer me. It sounds like nothing, but there is a big difference there. The appreciation of this difference is the exact same experience that the couple for the duration of While We’re Young goes through in an hour and a half.
It may disguise itself as an ordinary silly comedy, but there is wisdom in While We’re Young that many if not most of us will take decades to figure out for themselves. I will give this rather eccentric film 3 out of 5 crabs, but I will note that people stuck in their midlives might find its appeal much larger than this score may suggest.