Selfishness in the Snapchat age

Noah Baumbach’s latest New York critique takes aim at Brooklyn hipsterdom and the meaning of authenticity with wit and style.

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Selfishness in the Snapchat age

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David Vendrell, Writer

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Josh and Cornelia, the 40-something out-of-touch New Yorkers, sit in a diner with Jamie and Darby, the mid-20s, ultra-hip Brooklynites. They just finished filming an interview for Jamie’s documentary about meeting up with old high school friends who add him on Facebook. Josh, googling from his phone, discovers that the man they just interviewed is actually an Afghan war veteran who was involved in a massacre in the line of duty. He freaks out with delight — the story just got so much bigger! Jamie powers on the camera. “Can you do that again? Just like that.” A little bewildered, Josh tries again — more forced, without the ring of authenticity. Jamie pushes him to keep trying until he gets it right — until he crafts the perfect moment.

EAST COAST ELITE

Noah Baumbach has positioned himself as the foremost critic of the East Coast elite. From parental laureate rivalries in “The Squid and the Whale,” to the struggling artistic quandaries of the titular character in “Frances Ha” and the perennially uncommitted elitism in the upcoming “Mistress America,” Baumbach takes characters who would appear rather cool and enviable, and then reveals them for the monsters they truly are. Bracingly intelligent and hilariously witty, Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” explores authenticity — or lack thereof — in the digital age.

Evolving from an inspired naturalism to a cinema-as-ideas stylism, Baumbach has grown into a startlingly original filmmaker. This time he crafts two diametrically opposed couples — the stuffy Manhattan versus the carefree retro-cool Brooklyn. Responsibility, age and artistic failures plague Josh and Cornelia. What a breath of fresh air it is for Jamie and Darby to show up in Josh’s classroom. Jamie, a self-proclaimed fan of Josh’s documentary work, quickly wins the friendship of the older couple. Josh and Cornelia are enthralled by what they find: millennials trying to recapture the magic of days gone by — biking, records, film cameras, etc. For a while, it lights a spark in Josh and Cornelia’s staling marriage, making them feel young again.

HUMAN NATURE DOES NOT CHANGE

Even though tastes may change, human nature does not, and Baumbach exposes the Jamie’s hipsterdom for the mask it truly is. Although espousing the laissez-faire generosity of the type of guy who would rather build furniture with his trash than throw it away, he reveals himself to be a lying opportunist at every turn. Every decision, every friendship and every interaction is as calculated as the Instagrams he takes. Greed and pride have a way of potentially drowning anyone with ambition and Jamie is already underwater with his desire for cinematic glory.

With the ability to stop and record by the flick of a switch and curate your online presence with ease, what does it mean to be genuine in today’s day and age? Something in us cringes as we watch Jamie manipulate the timeline and surprises of his documentary, but we do this act of manipulation everyday. We are constantly crafting our narrative, directing people’s perception of who we are and what we can do. We wear the image of authenticity as a mask for true authenticity.

VIRTUE NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE

And is that just not another reflection of the Church many times? We tout transparency and struggle as the foremost virtue, working out the perfect testimony for the optimal “look how Christ changed me” impact. The holier-than-thou arrogance of the Baby-Boom generation has transitioned to a more-hurt-than-you sanctimony. Another Evangelical trend destined to hurt more than help. Reckoning with your true self — without ego, reputation and image — is where growth occurs. Whether reading from your first-edition Dead Sea Scroll leather-bound print or listening to an audiobook on your iPod, the Bible is the Bible — different forms of the same content.

Josh learns the meaning of storytelling ethics might be changing all around him, but the one thing that never goes out of style is virtue — maybe not for the industry as a whole, but for your own integrity. And that is what makes you a better artist and a better person.