Noah Baumbach’s latest film “While We’re Young” tries to let off some steam and relieve some of the long-accumulating pressure surrounding the gargantuan loathing that’s grown around the so-called hipster, the recycled and infamous beatnik label given to the current 20-somethings, the name of course lifted from the 50’s and 60’s, when being a hipster wasn’t as severe of an indictment. It’s now presumed that this current generation of new adults is so soulless and culturally degenerated that an original nickname has not yet been found. (create and insert new nickname, please)
Josh and Cornelia, played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, play a childless yuppie couple trying to remain relevant in the world of increasingly disparate and fragmented sub-groups and wind up running around town with a couple of ambitious Brooklyn hipsters, Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.
The basic intellectual premise relies on the director judging the various characters’ worth. Director Noah Baumbach seems to suggest, maybe, that we all judge as a matter of course and that it’s an unavoidable impulse that we all judge, no reason not to… and maybe there are some great reasons why we judge and label and deconstruct each other and put each other through the gauntlet. Should we judge or not – it’s completely pointless to wonder why it happens. We do it to survive and navigate through our lives.
Okay, yes, go see it… worth the $15.50 (current New York City price… CRAZY), especially if you can make it a “double feature”, know what I mean? (wink) The film is a time-worthy and observationally fun trip through yuppie and hipster angst without feeling the loathing and contempt that sometimes happens to a director in this kind of script, but Baumbach does the proceedings justice and manages to skewer everyone in the film eventually and equally without it feeling like a heartless massacre. There is some ember of humanity and dignity in all of these people in the story and Baumbach also gets to tee off in brutal fashion for the required bloodletting – so Baumbach provides the best of both worlds, trashing yuppies and hipsters, but then giving some space to have an epiphany or three about the totality of this messy human car wreck.
Of course, this is the kind of philosophically interpretive and open film that a lot of people will have fun finding problems with, especially those who staunchly defend our truly shallow culture and the excuses we make about the state of humanity and the overall sociopathic behavior of the human species in almost every successive generation. Baumbach’s films tend to look at people as objectively as possible, but also as subjectively as possible, simultaneously, using the main character (Stiller, in this case) as the vehicle and as the director’s voice and alter ego, and the lead character is also used as a deeply flawed fool (so as to allow Baumbach to say all kinds of things, especially a license to say a few bottom-feeding things). This whole film structure of Baumbach’s can be credited pretty much entirely to Woody Allen’s gallery of losers from Woody’s greatest films. But that’s what we need more of in film, anyway – so Baumbach’s latest model of modern human failure is welcome.
This is a story and film for those of you honest enough to admit to the apparent disgustingness of the human drama – and for those who are even more honest still, honest enough to see the redemption built into people, which is another essential part of the implacable hopefulness and humor of New York City filmmakers over time.
If you go into this film not too cranky and relax your cynicism, you’ll see that Baumbach’s latest film is really goddamn funny and really right on target. Hipsters may be annoying and shallow – but the rest of humanity is not that far behind, in that regard. And that’s why it’s funny, apparently.