Noah Baumbach wants you kids off his lawn. Metaphorically speaking, of course. The lifelong New Yorker—and auteur of The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha—probably never had a lawn, but he does have a career in independent film, his latest being While We're Young. Baumbach's meditation on the tension between the slowing, sinking middle-aged and the speeding, ascending young finds the two meeting on the battleground of ambition as laureled old age looks on, fruitlessly suggesting there's plenty of sustenance to go around. Ben Stiller plays documentary filmmaker Josh Srebnik, whose marriage to Cornelia (Naomi Watts) is due for a little excitement. Enter twentysomething couple Jamie (Adam Driver of TV's Girls) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), whose extension of seemingly unconditional friendship injects energy and more than a little self-consciousness into the older couple's relationship.
Alas, Jamie's appealingly hip freak flag starts to turn into a red one when the aspiring filmmaker starts moving in on Josh's territory. Josh's latest project, eight years in the making, flounders as Jamie's takes off like a rocket. As if that weren't enough, the older man has always been deeply overshadowed by his father-in-law, a legendary documentarian played by the great Charles Grodin. Is Manhattan big enough for the three of them? And can Josh and Cornelia's marriage survive the roller-coaster excitement, and strain, brought on by Jamie and Darby?
While We're Young plays like the Woody Allen comedy he never came up with, clashing his type of New Yorker against those of Lena Dunham. At first, Baumbach keeps the culture-clash social satire light, if often insightful. As their bodies begin betraying them, Josh and Cornelia comically try to keep up with their younger counterparts, funsters who never pick up the check. The older folks are digital while the young folks are analog, an irony that eventually becomes a sticking point as Josh realizes his references, his nostalgia and perhaps his very life are being appropriated by an upstart generation.
For good measure, Baumbach casts Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys) as a domesticated dad, but the obvious shots at hipster scenes (nouveau chapeaus and an ayahuasca ceremony featuring a shaman who plays Vangelis on an iPhone) eventually sour into a complex critique of modern ambition in a changing cultural landscape. "Documentaries are over," Josh concludes, decrying lost ground in the search for truth. "Is that old man talk? Maybe it is." Though While We're Young can be a bit reductive in essentially lionizing the old (as calm, centered and generous to a fault), standing with the middle-aged despite their foibles, and raking twentysomethings over the coals, Baumbach makes comic hay from the realization that the future belongs to the young.