I’m moving in a few weeks, so I recently went through some old boxes to de-clutter before packing. Inevitably the old yearbooks came out, encouragement and optimism scrawled across the pages in glittery gel ink. Old trophies, too. And certificates of achievement and excellence. It was all a startling reminder that I once had actual dreams .
So, that sinking feeling of what-the-fuck-happened-to-me was something I could relate to when I saw While We’re Young a few days later.
In the film, fortysomethings Josh and Cornelia are in a bit of a rut. They try to downplay it, but their discontent slowly reveals itself as their best friends become parents and start doing that really annoying thing parents do to their childless friends: “You have to have kids, it’s the best thing ever!” Josh’s filmmaking career is also at a standstill, as he struggles to piece together his documentary from ten years worth of footage about…actually, I still can’t figure out what that documentary was about.
I’m a good fifteen to twenty years away from a mid-life crisis, but I connected with Josh and Cornelia right away. There’s nothing drastically wrong with their lives, but once they realize they’ve lost that feeling of endless possibility, it starts to weigh on them. They are stagnant while everyone else in their lives appears to be moving steadily from one milestone to the next.
The spark that brings Josh and Cornelia out of their funk comes in the form of Jamie and Darby, bohemian twentysomethings (to whom I will refer as “The Hipsters”) who dazzle the older couple with their infectious enthusiasm and free-spiritedness. Suddenly, Josh is the cool, accomplished mentor to Jamie, and Cornelia can hang out with Darby in baby-free places, doing baby-free things. The contrast between the two couples is perhaps best represented by the homes you created for them. Josh and Cornelia’s place is well-appointed, if somewhat sterile. The Hipsters’ place, on the other hand, is shabby, disordered, and you crammed it with all kinds of cool stuff that had me wanting a similar look for my new place. Their apartment led me to reminisce fondly about the furniture in my first apartment, like the awesome couch I randomly scored from the curb. The Hipsters are kind of ridiculous and pretentious, but the combination of nostalgia and regret is no match for pragmatism and common sense.
I did worry that the film would lose steam right around the halfway point. The two couples flit from one charming (mis)adventure to the next, and while it’s amusing, I worried that momentum would be lost and we’d spend the last 30 minutes schlepping towards an unsatisfying conclusion. But director Noah Baumbach throws in a twist that waves smelling salts under the nose of the plot and keeps it revived and energetic through to the end. As charming as the Hipsters are at the beginning of the film, I enjoyed watching the shine rub off of them. The film’s last act is like crashing after a sugar high. Darby and Jamie are a pack of Skittles: sweet, delightful, and you can’t get enough of them. But an hour later your head hurts and you realize they’re full of unhealthy shit.
Being effortlessly cool requires so much effort it’s downright exhausting. As Josh and Cornelia learn this and try to regain footing in their own, comfortable lives, I thought about the house you decorated for them, which I initially dismissed as boring and WASP-y. On second thought, it was comfortable, and the things in it were put there with care and thought. That is what I really want for my new home. Because that old couch I got from the curb was actually crap; I had to steam-clean and sanitize it four times before I could sit on it without getting a rash.
Ultimately, While We’re Young struck a chord with me because I could relate to those feelings of being stuck after leaving your twenties behind. There are no big revelations or sea changes, but I walked away considering the merits of a little misadventure to help one feel unstuck, and when the candy coating of nostalgia wore off entirely, I was back to browsing IKEA catalogues. Because I’m not some damn hipster. Now get off my lawn.