Blog Directory CineVerse: Generation gap or generation trap?

Generation gap or generation trap?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

His name may not be as familiar to moviegoers as much as contemporaries like Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, or Wes Anderson, but Noah Baumbach and his works have come to represent some of the finest qualities inherent in independent cinema and filmmaking by Generation X. Speaking of, the latter cohort is not-so-flatteringly represented in Baumbach’s 2014 outing While We’re Young, although millennials appear to get the brunt of the criticism in this intelligent dramedy starring Ben Stiller, Adam Driver, Naomi Watts, and Amanda Seyfried. Read on for a CineVerse-style analysis of this picture (and click here to listen to a recording of our group discussion of this film).

What did you find interesting, offbeat, unexpected, rewarding, or memorable about this film?

  • The cast is impressive, featuring two Oscar-nominated heavyweights in Driver and Watts as well as Stiller, Charles Grodin, and the curious casting of Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys and Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul, and Mary.
  • The story is not predictable. The foursome doesn’t reunite by the end of the film, the spouses don’t have affairs with their friend’s spouses, Jamie doesn’t really get any comeuppance, and Josh isn’t exactly vindicated in his takedown of Jamie or in his career ambitions.
  • The narrative and characters are funny, but the point isn’t to produce a laugh riot here like previous Ben Stiller comedies.
    • The New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote: “Mr. Baumbach is, as usual, a piquant observer of the manners and morals of the various demographic subsets of the white, urban lower-upper-middle class. He is without peer among screenwriters as a composer of incisive, non-punchline-driven comic dialogue, and unrivaled among directors as a choreographer of fraught social encounters.”
  • Arguably, the female characters take more of a backseat here than their male counterparts. Cornelia and Darby aren’t as well fleshed-out or given as much emphasis as Josh and Jamie, which is unfortunate.
  • Some critics found fault with the movie’s preachiness about the flaws of the younger generation. Consider how you feel about Jamie – representational of millennials – by the end of the film; his character doesn’t appear redeemable, even though he is popular and successful. Also, ponder how you assess Darby by the film’s conclusion, as she chooses to split with Jamie and live life more on her terms; that can be construed as a more favorable interpretation of Generation Y.

Themes explored in While We’re Young

  • The generation gap and demographic conflicts. This film has its sights squarely on Gen Xers versus Gen Yers (millennials), although there’s also a schism explored between Boomers (personified by Leslie) and Gen Xers, which means the film can translate as a somewhat universal statement on the disparity between any earlier and subsequent generation.
  • Attempting to recapture your youth and remain at least young at heart
  • Accepting your limitations and finding a comfortable compromise with your unachievable ambitions. Josh realizes that he isn’t going to achieve all his dreams and that he’s running out of time to create any kind of legacy; he also acknowledges that the advice he’s been given by the older generation – represented by Leslie, his father-in-law, who advises him to edit his 10-year-old documentary film – is worth adapting to some degree. Cornelia, meanwhile, comes around to the idea of parenting and, with her husband, is preparing to adopt.
    • “Ultimately, this film is about to well-meaning people coming to grips with who they actually are versus who they’ve always thought they were supposed to be,” wrote Nashville Scene reviewer Noel Murray.
  • The rewards and risks of not staying in your lane. Josh and Cornelia at least briefly enjoy trying to act younger and more hip and associating themselves with the next generation who will eventually replace them. But debatably, they realize that there is wisdom in experience, reward in staying true to yourself and remaining committed to longtime friends, and dignity and grace in acknowledging that it’s okay to get older and make compromises—like the compromises that come with parenting.
    • Recall the text prologue of the film, taken from Isben’s The Master Builder; Solness expresses consternation about younger people, but is advised by a younger woman (Hilde) to “open the door and let them in.” Solness soon falls to his death from the tower he’s constructed. At the end of the film, the end credits include the Paul McCartney song Let 'Em In.

Similar films

  • All About Eve
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors
  • The Four Seasons
  • Broadcast News
  • The Overnight

Important works by Noah Baumbach

  • The Squid and the Whale
  • Greenberg
  • Francis Ha
  • Mistress America
  • Marriage Story

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