Noah Baumbach has consistently been one of my favorite filmmakers. From his highbrow low-fi aesthetic of the ’90s, to his push into more dramatic territory in the ’00s, it’s been both fascinating and rewarding for me to follow his career. I haven’t seen a film of his I haven’t enjoyed. Until he made While We’re Young. Since his strengths has always been as a screenwriter (Frances Ha was not that good looking, you guys), it pains me to say that this is one of the most thematically confused scripts, which leads to a tonally confused whole. It’s a mess on many levels, and the scariest part about the script is that Baumbach seems to have turned into one of his own characters, the same one he used to indict.
Stiller and Watts are actually very good in what they’re given, but all they’re really given here is a rope to hang themselves with. Because at the end of the day, this comedy about generational gaps is weirdly acidic, and not in the way that I have come to love from Baumbach. The central couple (Stiller and Watts) at the beginning of the film are nicely drawn and even recognizably relatable in their insecurities and weariness, but they are not the same couple that the third act revolves around. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it shines a light on the film’s biggest problem: Baumbach’s script continually gets away from him at every turn because he refuses to let these characters simply exist in this world, and is more concerned with sending a message (something he’s never particularly fell prey to in the past). This is especially true of the young couple in the film, played wonderfully by Driver and Seyfried. It’s just too bad the film wasn’t interested in humanizing them as well. When the third act reveals that Driver’s character is essentially the Keyser Soze of the world of documentary filmmaking, the film has tethered so far off its orbit, it’s amazing one still even see it.
Isolated scenes still pop with some classic Baumbach exchanges (the scene in which Stiller’s character meets with a producer to ask for funding for his film is a standout), but how Baumbach ever thought they fit together to create a coherent and meaningful whole is beyond me. Once the central couples become unrecognizable and the film verges into melodramatic territory (people kiss people that aren’t their spouses!), that’s also when the gags become more blunt (Stiller catches on fire at one point), and it becomes unwatchable. What’s sad is there is some thematic material here that I know Baumbach could have made work, but much like the annoying running gag concerning Stiller’s documentary film being overstuffed and incoherent, Baumbach doesn’t seem to see how overcrowded the film is. The third act reveals that Stiller’s character had a nemesis, though… so what’s Baumbach’s excuse?
Also, the final scene is a baby using an iPhone because young people, amirite?