“While We’re Young”
Josh (Ben Stiller) is a 44-year-old documentarian who has been cursed with a modicum of early success. Therefore he lectures at a continuing education class in a nearby community college. He’s working on his latest project; the trouble is, he’s been working on it for 10 years now. He’s done 100 hours of footage now, and the thing just doesn’t have any focus. And alas, neither does he.
His lovely wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is very supportive, her Dad being a successful filmmaker himself, and she works with him in his production company. So she grew up with it, and is comfortable in that world, but she senses that Josh is classically “blocked.” She just doesn’t know how to help him, other than offer him assistance from her Dad, which Josh is too proud to take. Cornelia at one point was trying to get pregnant, but after the serial disappointments of unsuccessful hormone therapy and the clinical emptiness of constant monitoring, they just gave up trying, and have told themselves ever since that it’s fine, they didn’t need kids, they’re happy as they are.
But the first scene of the movie finds them oohing and aahing over the newborn of their best friends. And immediately they feel “out of the loop” with baby activities. So they are ripe for a new, younger set of friends. Enter Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who just seem so energetic, and spontaneous, and “in the moment.” They also enjoy retro: board games instead of electronic apps, fedoras and consciousness-raising sessions with some smarmy swami with a faintly Eastern approach, whose “total experience” includes a group hallucinogen. This is how to be cool?
Josh at first thinks he is mentoring Jamie, who says he aspires to be like him, and it takes Josh a while before he realizes that Jamie is really just “playing him”; milking him for his contacts and his technicians and even the big-time access of his father-in-law.
When Josh finally confronts Jamie, he just shrugs and says everybody does it, which drives Josh crazy with righteous indignation, which spills over into his now-fragile relationship with Cornelia, because she now appears to be in Jamie’s camp, as well. Feeling alone and isolated, Josh hangs on desperately to a set of principles that nobody else seems to think is important, but for Josh, his perceived integrity is all he has left. That, and a surprising discovery that maybe he would re-consider the issue of raising a kid, after all.
Middle-aged crisis movie? Yes, obviously. But it feels even older than that, as Josh demonstrates some typical “post-retirement” kind of insecurity, as well: the world has passed him by, there are certain things he’s never going to accomplish, the young people look on him as a living anachronism, his skill set is deemed outmoded. Is there any hope for Josh? Not much. And his self-imposed high-mindedness doesn’t exactly make him charming or endearing, either to the other characters or to the viewers. At the end, Josh has to re-learn what it’s really like to “never give up” and “never give in.” Like we all do.
Questions For Discussion:
1) What points of integrity regarding your work are just non-negotiable for you?
2) What points of integrity regarding your personal life are non-negotiable for you?
3) When you’ve had strains with your long-term committed relationship, what has caused those difficulties, and if you overcame them, what did you have to give up or give in?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the
Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church,