Middle-aged couple Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia Schrebnick (Naomi Watts) have a shaky relationship while living in New York City. Josh is struggling on the post-production of his documentary film about leftist intellectual Ira Mandelstam (Peter Yarrow). His previous documentary about military-industrial complex titled The Power Elite was based on C. Wright Mills's sociological theory. Both Josh and Cornelia are struggling to try to have children, although Cornelia is reluctant due to her miscarrying the past two pregnancies. After finishing a lecture at the college where he works, Josh is approached by Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby Massey (Amanda Seyfried), a young couple who invite him and Cornelia out to dinner, the former claiming to be a fan of both his works and the works of his accomplished documentary filmmaker father-in-law, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin). Josh is immediately awestruck by Jamie and Darby's non-conservative outlook on life, and he and Cornelia begin spending more time with them and indulging in their activities.
An aspiring filmmaker himself, Jamie talks with Josh about their projects, including Josh's own documentary. This inspires Jamie to make a film about connecting with an old high school friend that he found on Facebook. Jamie and Darby decide to invite Josh and Cornelia to an ayahuasca ceremony, where a hallucinating Cornelia kisses Jamie, while Jamie receives Josh's approval in helping with the production of his film. Later, Cornelia agrees to help produce. Jamie and Josh manage to find the former's friend, Kent Arlington (Brady Corbet), who is in the hospital for an attempted suicide. Not long after, Josh and Jamie discover that Kent was involved with a massacre during an Army tour in Afghanistan, creating an even bigger story for the focus of Jamie's film.
While pitching his own film, Josh is dismayed when he cannot intrigue a hedge fund investor (Ryan Serhant) with the concept of his vague and confusing feature. Josh goes to Leslie with his film for a second opinion. When Leslie's criticisms and suggestions are brought down by Josh, the two get into an argument over Josh and Cornelia's inability to have children, as well as Josh calling himself a disappointment in the eyes of his father-in-law. Josh then attends a party for a screening of Jamie's own film, which is met far more positively by Leslie and even the hedge fund investor. A jealous Josh argues with Cornelia over Jamie's success, and they separate. Josh meets up with Darby, who is growing sick of Jamie's increasingly self-centered attitude, and tells him about Cornelia kissing Jamie. Josh angrily confronts Cornelia the next morning and angrily denounces Jamie.
While teaming up with his editor on cutting his film, Josh comes across footage for Jamie's film, finding evidence in it that suggests his meeting with Kent was all staged. Finding him, Kent reveals that he was really friends with Darby, not Jamie, and that he was contacted by Jamie weeks before their shoot. Capturing his confession on camera, Josh goes to Jamie and Darby to confront him, only to discover that a fed-up Darby is moving out and that Jamie is at a tribute celebrating Leslie at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Josh confronts Jamie in private at the event, admonishing him for compromising the truth and genuineness of his story for dramatic purposes. When Josh forces Jamie to admit to it in front of Leslie, he excuses it, saying that it's a good story regardless of the fabrication, which throws Josh into a rage, but not before admitting that Leslie was right about changing his film. Outside, Josh and Cornelia reconcile.
One year later, Josh and Cornelia are driving to the airport to adopt a baby from Haiti. Josh finds an article in a magazine lauding Jamie as a filmmaking genius, which Cornelia and Josh pass off by admitting, "He's not evil, he's just young." They then watch a very young child at the gate playing with an iPhone, staring at him with uncertainty.Ben Stiller as Josh Schrebnick
Naomi Watts as Cornelia Schrebnick
Adam Driver as Jamie Massey
Amanda Seyfried as Darby Massey
Charles Grodin as Leslie Breitbart
Brady Corbet as Kent Arlington
Ryan Serhant as Hedge Fund Dave
Maria Dizzia as Marina
Adam Horovitz as Fletcher
Peter Yarrow as Ira Mandelstam
Dree Hemingway as Tipper
Matthew Maher as Tim
The film was spotted shooting on September 17, 2013 in New York City.
The film score was composed by James Murphy.
- "Golden Years" – James Murphy
- "Concerto for Lute, 2 Violins and Continuo in D, RV. 93" – Antonio Vivaldi
- "All Night Long (All Night)"– Lionel Richie
- "Buggin' Out" – A Tribe Called Quest
- "The Ghost in You" – The Psychedelic Furs
- "The Inch Worm" – Danny Kaye
- "Only the Stars Above Welcome Me Home" – James Murphy
- "Falling (Duke Dumont Remix)" – Haim
- "Eye of the Tiger" – Survivor
- "Andante du Concerto Pour Flautino en ut Majeur" (from the MGM film The Wild Child) – Antonio Vivaldi
- "Waiting for a Girl Like You" – Foreigner
- "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" – Paul McCartney & Wings
- "We Used to Dance" – James Murphy
- "Golden Years" – David Bowie
The film premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2014. Shortly after, A24 acquired distribution rights to the film for $4 million.
The film opened in limited release on March 27, 2015 and earned $227,688, ranking number 24 in the box office that weekend. On April 17, the film was given a wide release and grossed $1,438,384, ranking number 12. The film eventually grossed $7,587,485 domestically, more than all of Baumbach's previous films in the United States box office.
While We're Young has received positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 84% approval rating, based on 179 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's consensus is "Poignant and piercingly honest, While We're Young finds writer-director Noah Baumbach delivering some of his funniest lines through some of his most relatable characters." On Metacritic the film has a score of 77 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".