First of all, the title of the movie, “While We’re Young,” is rather misleading. The main characters — middle-aged couple Josh and Cornelia Schrebnick — are not young any more. Why isn’t it called “While We WERE Young” as it should be? Does it imply that they are still young at heart even if they are not physically? If it does, the ending doesn’t suggest it.
The movie starts with presenting a childless New York couple in their mid-40s, who have struggled but failed to have children. Josh has this grand idea about his documentary film and has worked hard on it for a decade but failed to accomplish anything. They seem living in a state of quiet resignation.
Then their dull and staid life is shattered when Josh is approached by Jamie and Darby, a young couple in their mid-20s. Josh is smotheringly overwhelmed by the vitality, youthfulness, and optimism of young Jamie, so much so that the older couple is sucked into the whirl of youthful activities. They copy their new friends in everything from hat-wearing to hip-hop classes to promiscuous swearing. The effect is of an elder generation mimicking a younger generation that is in turn taking lifestyle cues from many preceding generations. In one scene, Josh exclaims: “I remember when this song was just considered bad!” when Jamie slips a pair of headphones on him.
Josh and the young Jamie share a passion for documentary filmmaking, and Josh’s father-in-law is a luminary in this field. It is later revealed that Jamie approached Josh with the hidden agenda of getting closer to the latter’s father-in-law.
Jamie gets inspiration and assistance from Josh and, with some modest fabrication, he makes a widely-acclaimed documentary about an Afghanistan veteran. When Josh confronts Jamie about his “dishonesty”, his raucous, public accusation does not detract from Jamie’s success in the eyes of their onlookers.
The theme touches on many things — inter-generational conflict, the old trying to cling to their youth, the contrast between the “wisdom” of age and the optimism of youth. The ending suggests that there is no compromise between the two generations when Josh comments on Jamie, “He’s not evil, he’s just young.” It is more of a resignation and a stereotyping of youth than a confession that he can actually learn something from them.
The movie ends with the middle-aged couple on the way to Port-au-Prince to adopt a Haiti baby, still looking unsure of what life will be after that.
The whole adventure with the younger generation has left them to confront and accept the reality that they are not young any more.
By the way, if you are looking for likable characters, stay away from this one.