Basically, it couldn’t be more relevant to young professionals – whether you’re 25 or 40.
The film stars Ben Stiller (Josh) and Naomi Watts (Cornelia) as a slightly frustrated middle-aged couple who forms a refreshing relationship with a cool, much younger hipster documentary filmmaking couple, played by Amanda Seyfried (Darby) and Adam Driver (Jamie).
We caught up with Baumbach post-screening to hear more about it.
With films like Kicking and Screaming, you’ve explored the theme of fighting one’s age before. What was the inspiration behind this film, and is any of it reflective of your life?
All my movies are personal, and come from me, obviously, but they’re not autobiographical. I mean, of course, I say that all the time, because everybody asks me that with each movie. It’s fine; but I particularly felt with this movie that I was crafting a comedy in a tradition that I think goes back to screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s – comedies about marriage. I was almost following a template. I was drawing from the course of my life, or the lives of people I know, or have observed, but it’s not specifically autobiographical at all.
In terms of casting, what drew you to the four main characters?
Ben and I had worked on Greenberg together, had a great experience, and became good friends. When I was writing this, and thinking about the tone, I was thinking of Ben – which isn’t always the case when I’m writing. In this case, though, I really imagined his comic voice in the Josh character, so it would have been very uncomfortable for the both of us if he had said no to the movie.
Naomi was someone I wanted to work with for a long time, and I liked the idea of working with her in a comedy. She’s always so grounded and has such authenticity to her as an actor, and that’s what I thought was needed for this character to make it that much funnier. Naomi in a hip-hop class to me in funnier than a more notably comedic actress is. But I also think Naomi is funny in movies before and has a real lightness to her.
I had worked with Adam Driver on Frances Ha, and wanted to do something else with him. Casting him came in a way that kind of made sense in the movie to me. It’s kind of a humorous idea that Ben’s character “falls in love” with this young guy and becomes so enamored by him. So, while it’s funny and we’re having fun with that, you want to invest in Ben’s passion and engagement, and Adam Driver makes it immediately interesting. Adam is so compelling and I felt you could have it all ways with him – both funny, and all those broader elements, but you understand why you’d want to follow him anywhere.
With Amanda – she says so herself in the movie –you won’t pick up a lone male hitchhiker, but you will a couple. And she has this light, beautiful presence to her that’s easy to fall for. She is also very funny, and it all just felt like a great balance.
Was it intentional that both Josh and Ben and Cornelia and Darby look alike?
They do, in a way, and I think it’s like the younger couple is just a projection of the older couple – in another movie they’d be ghosts. They are conjured up by this married couple who know that on some level, they need things to change.
Did you notice any generational differences once the camera stopped rolling?
Ben and I have the same doctor, so we would complain about the same sickly ailments that come with getting older. We definitely laughed at certain things not dissimilar to Ben’s trip to the doctor in the film, when he finds out he has arthritis. But, in a funny way, Adam Driver is one of the oldest souls I know, so he is probably less engaged in 20-something culture right now than I am.
How did you avoid falling into the traditional “hipster stereotype” and create meaningful characters with Jamie and Darby?
We knew by design that we would never be able to actually document what was going on in Brooklyn at that exact moment, because even if we did, it would change by the time we were driving back to the city that day. Things move so quickly. From a design standpoint, we just went with what was interesting to us. We were looking at movies we loved – notably French movies from the late 60s – and using the set decoration or clothing that we liked from those films.
Do you have a message you want the audience to take from the film?
I don’t have a big thing. I think it’s a funny movie. It’s affirming and hopeful, and I want people to have a good time seeing it and hopefully relate to it. I was thinking about movies from my childhood that the studios used to make when like Working Girl, Broadcast News, or many Sydney Pollack films. These movies were broad, mainstream and funny, but were also about character and about adults. I wanted to give my version of that. The concept is about right now, and because it’s about generations, there are many arguments, and a lot of talking points explored. There’s the relationship with technology, the truth in art, aging – and I like that about the movie. I was having those arguments with myself when I was creating it. In those areas, I’m definitely into interpretation.
What factors do you think have contributed to your success as a director?
I had things happen quite early for me, but then, I struggled for a little while. I made two movies in my 20s, then didn’t make another until I was 34. And I think that going through that struggle was actually – retrospectively, I didn’t enjoy it at the time – positive because I grew up a lot and learned a lot about myself and subsequently became better at what I did. When I had another shot at it, I was more prepared for it. I think learning about myself ultimately helped me to become more successful.
Any advice for upcoming directors?
Other people may just go do it. Just go make a movie now. Technology allows for it; it’s easy to do something that looks good.
Check out While We’re Young for yourself. It opens in select theatres tomorrow.