Friends from College: why Generation X cant grow up

The latest screen depiction of midlife crisis presents its not just the characters who are in denial about getting older its the film-makers, too

I am 40 years old. The drawbridge is going up, human. Its now or never for me, mentions a panicked Keegan-Michael Key in Friends from College, Netflixs self-explanatory new sitcom. As a young man, Keys character, Ethan, was destined to write the Great American Novel; now hes trying to get his head around writing YA fiction, which delivers him to the shocking revelation that he is no longer a young adult himself.

For observers of a similar demographic, Friends from College might well be too close for convenience. The reality that Ethan and his sidekicks are entitled Harvard graduates makes them easier to laugh at, but this is Generation X manager into middle age, and theyre truly not handling it well. Created by Nicholas Stoller( administrator of Bad Neighbours and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and a fortysomething Harvard graduate himself) and his wife, Francesca Delbanco, Friends from College is a sitcom about people who likely watched Friends < em> at college, when they should have been finishing their essays. Culturally, it knows how to push all those 1990 s buttons: The soundtrack includes Pavement, the Stone Roses and the Sundays; Fred Wonder Years Savage is in the cast; and there are references to Hacky Sacks, Coolio and Monica Lewinsky.

Watch the trailer for Friends from College.

As students, Ethan and his chums partied together, slept together, goofed around together and agonised about the future together. Fast-forward 20 times and theyre basically doing exactly the same thing, which is less of a good seem. Theyre still having affairs with each other; their vocations are still works in progress( unless you count acting in an am-dram gender-reversed production of Streetcar a respectable job ); theyre only just thinking about resolving down and having infants( and realising its too late ); and they still leap at any have opportunities to literally party like its 1999. They describe their wine-tasting trip-up as adult spring shatter. In one episode, they leap at the chance to go back to college; in another, the women party with a bunch of 80-year-old males, which establishes them feel like spring chickens again. The Big Chill looks like a gratify of Victorian faith elders compared to this lot. Every occasion you get together with them, you all become a cluster of little bitches, Savages non-college boyfriend tells him.

It used to be that by the time you reach 40, your life was over; now when you grow 40, its genuinely only your youth thats over. Go back half a century and 40 was ancient . Look at Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. The drawbridge had gone up for her long ago: wedded, financially assure, college-age infants, and nothing to look forward to except grandmotherhood and fatality. Mrs Robinson was also 42 years old( although Anne Bancroft was simply 35 when she played her ). No ponder the baby boomers turned to alcoholism and adultery and overcompensatory sports cars.

By comparison, growing up in the 1970 s and 80 s, Generation X had it easy maybe too easy. The major equality combats has indeed been won, life expectancy was higher, parents were richer, college tuition was more accessible, and there was no internet to burst their bubble or destroy their music industry. In their movies, 40 -year-olds were still the square oldies. They were John Lithgows Bible-thumping dad in Footloose( Lithgow was 39 at the time ); they were the principal in The Breakfast Club; or they were the fathers whose pristine, mid-life crisis sports cars were wrecked by their teenage sons in Ferris Buellers Day Off and Risky Business. Basically, Gen-X teens looked at their parents lives and seen: No thanks. Instead, they prolonged their youth well into their late 30 s, becoming slackers and stoners and man-children and pop-culture geeks. They stayed in denial.

Could it be that film and TV-makers of the same age are also in refusal? What Friends from College throws into succour is how little this distinct brand-new tone of midlife crisis has been addressed. So many Gen-X auteurs have basically evaded growing up along with their audience, would have liked to retreat into all-out juvenilia( Kevin Smith, the Farrelly brethren, Adam Sandler) or at least semi-abstract playfulness( Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson ). The closest Anderson has come to addressing middle age is probably Fantastic Mr Fox, for whom the prospect of late-parenthood, middle age and a career change from chicken-thieving to, er, journalism initiations something of an existential crisis: Who am I? Why a fox? Why not a mare, or a beetle, or a bald-headed eagle?

Dysfunctional family guy … Judd Apatows This Is 40. Photo: Sportsphoto/ Allstar

Judd Apatow tried to broach the subject with This Is 40, even if its honest truths came bubble-wrapped in baggy, improvisatory comedy. His semi-sequel to Knocked Up presented modern middle age as an era of diminishing passions, parenting issues, fiscal onus, haemorrhoids and mammograms. And, yes, denial: Leslie Mann repeatedly lies about her age on her medical record, and challenges her husband celebrate their seam 40 th birthday alone, since shes officially 38.

It is interesting to look at the work of Richard Linklater, whose Slacker nailed the whole 1990 s youth mindset. Linklater has regularly focused on boy, with retro college comedies such as Dazed and Confounded and Everybody Craves Some !!, or his great coming-of-ager Boyhood. But, consciously or unconsciously, Linklaters Before Sunrise/ Sunset/ Midnight trilogy captured something of his generations ripening process nearly in real time. Over such courses of the trilogy, another writer named Ethan( Hawke) and Julie Delpy progressed from carefree twentysomethings with all the time in “the worlds” to stroll through the darknes debating art and adoration and big stuff, to bickering fortysomethings whose accumulated baggage means they can no longer live in the moment, and now invest their period reminiscing, meditating what theyve become and where the romance went.

Skater son … Ben Stiller in While Was a boy. Photograph: Allstar/ Scott Rudin Prod.

If theres a movie that defines the Gen-X midlife dont call it a crisis , it would have to be While Was a boy by Noah Baumbach. As with Pals from College, Ben Stiller and Naomi Wattss childless, responsibility-light couple only to be realised theyre no longer young adults any more when they meet some actual young adults, in accordance with the arrangements of arch-hipsters Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. While the fortysomethings think theyre so on trend with their MacBooks and iPhones, the hipsters are playing board game and writing on typewriters and unironically listening to Survivors Eye of the Tiger on cassette. Its like their suite are a lot of everything we once throw away, says Watts.

At first Stiller and Watts find it revitalizing being down with the children, but the crannies start to show and this is where the generational downsides come into play, especially for Stiller, whos a striving documentary-maker. His father-in-law is also a documentary-maker, but being a baby boomer he came up in an age where who are able to pay you a comfortable life and a retrospective-worthy job. Driver is also a film-maker, but hes young and flexible and in tune with the zeitgeist. Stiller is stuck in the middle. The drawbridge has gone up for him.

The friends in Friends from College find themselves in a similar region no longer students but not exactly grownups, either at least not by their parents measuring. Every generation must go through this, of course, but the last thing that Generation X which has grown up on its own stories of exceptionalism and outsiderhood and perpetual alternative status wants to hear is the fact that it dreads and hopes are liable to be merely the same as everybody elses formerly they reach a certain age. At least now someone is transgressing it to them.

Friends from College is available now on Netflix

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