The term “hipster” is really meaningless and only used in subjective, comparative descriptions of other people. Nobody considers themselves a hipster, it’s only when you discover someone whose tastes in fashion, food and pop culture are more eccentric than your own that the term is applied. Similarly, nobody considers themselves a “bro,” but you only use that term when describing someone else whose tastes are less refined than your own.
This tendency to label a person as hipster but never labeling oneself that way is at the heart of “While We’re Young.” It’s a movie where characters identify not by their own goals and dreams, but how those goals and dreams are interpreted by other people. Ben Stiller plays Josh, a documentary filmmaker who has been spending five years too long on a single project. He’s married Naomi Watt’s Cornelia, the daughter of a much more famous documentary filmmaker whom Josh loathes simply for his success. They’re a relatively aging couple, young by old people standards, but old by young people standards.
Things get turned upside down when they meet Jamie and Darby, an eclectic, 20-something couple played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, respectively, whose youthful energy and exuberance naturally lures in Josh and Cornelia, almost reminding them of young versions of themselves, or at least young versions of themselves they wish they had been. And from there, the movie is a sturdy, natural study of young vs. old, of wild ambition vs. settling down, of the pains of failing to start ones own family vs. the joys of not even having to worry about that pain yet.
It feels genuine and raw, with all of its characters appearing relatable and real, not just dollar store versions of wannabe hipster or middle age artists. Baumbach masterfully displays just how easy the pains of adolescence creep into adulthood, with Josh and Cornelia beleaguered and downtrodden for not being invited to another couple’s party. He captures the painstaking reality of hipsterdom, that one’s efforts to be cool aren’t simply to be cool, but to get ahead. And he conveys so fluidly just how much insecurity and fear of failure can cripple one’s life, regardless of age.
One thing that I didn’t notice until “While We’re Young” is just how much Baumbach refers to filmmaking as a process in his movies. I took this originally to mean that he was just a big movie buff in general, but each film seems to speak to his own process as a filmmaker, either creating the film itself, or something that has impacted him as a storyteller along the way. “While We’re Young” appears to be both, a movie made in Baumbach’s mid-40s that echoes his own fears of failure and inadequacies, and perhaps a film inspired by the creative but off-putting personalities he encountered in New York for all those years. We can see a bit of Baumbach in every part of “While We’re Here,” and it is truly a sight to behold.