Review: Laughs and pains in ageing in While We're Young

Ben Stiller stars as a guy in a mid-life crisis in While We're Young.
Ben Stiller stars as a guy in a mid-life crisis in While We're Young.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

A middle-aged, childless couple befriend a younger couple and act like hipsters to try to fit in

Review Comedy Drama

WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (NC16)

97 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Noami Watts), a married couple in their 40s, are feeling restless. While all of their friends have children, they have given up the notion after several miscarriages. They befriend a carefree young couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), and relish hanging out with them despite the generation gap. Before long, Josh and Cornelia cannot help but be influenced, driven by a sudden need to look and talk like them, donning ill-fitting fedoras and taking hip-hop fitness lessons.

Every adult, at some point in his life, will have at least a moment's panic about getting older.

Trust the always incisive writer-director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, 2012) to deliver yet another original, and often very funny, comedy based on such a done-to-death premise.

He has broached this subject before in his reflective Greenberg (2010), also starring Stiller in the lead as a guy in a mid-life crisis.

But While We're Young is a decidedly more upbeat take on the issue. Here, middle-aged, childless couple Josh and Cornelia are feeling the effects of their fear of ageing hard, especially after their best friends have a baby and seem to talk about nothing else.

Attending a baby music class to show support for her friend, Cornelia freaks out when she realises all the parents in the room are reduced to babbling like infants.

To feel better about themselves, she and Josh regularly point out that, in comparison to those young parents, they have the freedom to go on vacations on a whim and finish the documentary they are making - except they do none of those things.

Where Baumbach succeeds is in his ability to find humour and irony in the most mundane situations, proving to be one of the shrewdest observers around.

As Josh and Cornelia get older, they embrace technology, making full use of their smartphones and smart televisions, watching movies on demand and reading books on their Kindles.

Jamie and Darby, on the other hand, take hipsterism to a whole new level, buying vinyl records, playing board games and travelling by stripped-down bicycles rather than a car.

After visiting the younger couple's home, Cornelia says, deadpan: "It's like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it." It is one of the few times Watts gets to show off her wonderful comic timing, so regrettably underwritten is her role here.

In fact, Baumbach could have done a lot more for all his female characters here, as the bright-eyed Seyfried also disappears in the second half of the film.

Stiller and Driver, however, are given every opportunity to engage in much repartee and both are hilarious in their roles, even if their casting feels predictable. Stiller is in familiar territory, nailing the high-strung, insecure character that is almost his stock in trade (see Meet The Parents, 2000), while Driver (Girls, 2012 - present) is his usual goofy yet soulful self.

When the two suddenly forget the word for "marzipan", Josh takes out his phone immediately, all ready to Google the answer. Jamie, on the other hand, stops him and declares with deliberate smugness: "Let's just not know."

So does this make the younger one as cool and independent as he seems to be or irritatingly ignorant?

Baumbach's answer is that it does not matter, so long as you accept and embrace your age, whatever number that may be.

yipwy@sph.com.sg

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