While We're Young29 Mar 2015
Noah Baumbach’s follow up to Frances Ha starts its first act with some of the same frenetic energy, Brooklyn landscapes and locomotive promise as Frances Ha. It’s relationship to Greenberg is also apparent as soon as we meet Ben Stiller’s protagonist. However, unlike these earlier films, the payoff in While We’re Young is not nearly as handsome.
The main conceit of this film is some sort of battle of the generations. It is clear that Mr. Baumbach is feeling the influence of father time. Portraying a film-maker, fighting time, stretching and contorting to fit into a changing world is his way of dealing with it. Baumbach features the “greatest generation,” in his own generation X and in the millennial generation. The first he treats with respect and reverence. The second he feels has never lived up to its potential, and may never get the same sense of satisfaction that its predecessor had. The last, unfortunately, he treats with the same unimaginative, curmudgeonly outlook that you’d find in some hack periodical article from anytime in the last 10 years. Millennials are entitled, constantly searching for authenticity but can’t define authenticity, aren’t governed by coherent morals or ethics or are threatening to take culture down the toilet with them.
In my estimation, this whole exercise of defining generations, assigning them characteristics or descriptors seems sort of futile. No generation besides Stiller’s father-in-law’s is treated with deference. And even then, its largely without nuance. This is the same generation that is called “the greatest,” who at once defeated the Nazis and perpetrated decades of civil rights violations against its own members. Generation X was basically set up for failure because they could never live up to the standard of winning a world war or ushering in orders of magnitude worth of increases in standards of living. Millennials are barely getting into power and are already being asked “what have you done for our country yet?” In the last shot of the film (before Stiller and Watts go to Haiti to adopt a baby, a problematic appropriation unto itself), they are already casting aspersions on a baby. Imagining all the ways in which this newest generation will disappoint them. So if no one can really live up to these expectations, what is the point of creating them? Maybe let’s just give each other the space and support to figure it out as we go along. And realize there aren’t really lines between us. We’re all just figuring it out together.
To this end, I loved that Ad-Rock played a tired, loving, dad in this film. If there’s any way to signify that everyone changes, and each of us have our time to be young and time to be old - it is to take a Beastie Boy and put a cloth baby bjorn on him.
It is very clear that this is a film written and directed by a white man. The women in this film are supporting characters, only showing up when they can support men in their endeavors, no ambitions of their own. And you know what else white men love? Finding something to blame. Whether its their own membership in a listless generation, or some generation before or after them. Someone’s gotta be at fault for things not going so well, and it’s hardly ever themselves or just how things worked out.