Noah Baumbach may have grown up in Park Slope (the setting of The Squid and the Whale), but his new movie, While We’re Young, finds him plumbing a different Brooklyn altogether — that of the “Bush of the wick,” as the character played by Adam Driver (of Girls) calls Bushwick.
Jamie is a 20-something aspiring filmmaker who ascribes to all the B’wick stereotypes: he and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), an artisanal ice-cream maker, got married in a water tower, to the sounds of a mariachi band. They keep a chicken in their vinyl-stocked loft, they love to thrift, and they occasionally engage the services of an ayahuasca shaman.
So how often does Baumbach make it over to Bushwick IRL? When Timeout film editor Joshua Rothkopf asked him that question Friday following a screening at Regal Cinemas Union Square, the director paused. “Um, uh… I go to Bushwick,” he said, a little defensively. “I mean, you know… um… I wouldn’t say that I’ve been there all the time but I, I go there.” Then he added, under his breath: “in my mind.”
That got a laugh from the adoring crowd. To be fair, Baumbach’s vision of Bushwick isn’t that far off for a guy who takes his interviews at Village celeb spot Bar Pitti: in one scene where the Bushwick Collective’s murals loom in the background, hipsters set up a “street beach” — basically a blacktop version of the Rockaway scene.
But like Michael Showalter’s Williamsburg comedy Hello, My Name Is Doris, Baumbach’s film is less a skewering of hipster culture and more an examination of what Baumbach described as “the generational clash” and “the appropriation of 40-somethings’ childhood by 20-somethings.”
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a stuck-in-a-rut, middle-aged husband and wife who become smitten with the scrappy younger couple, Darby and Jamie. Josh, a filmmaker who’s been hung up on his esoteric documentary for a good decade, is so inspired by Jamie’s spontaneity, throwback analog style, and creative vigor that the two end up going track biking together and shopping for fedoras at Bencraft Hatters, the old-school Williamsburg hat store that “keeps hasids and hipsters looking dapper.”
As Josh bros down with his millennial muse, he grows distant from his old friend Fletcher, a new father played by Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock of Beastie Boys fame.
Horovitz, like several of Baumbach’s actors, is actually a friend of the director’s who had previously been considered for a supporting role in Greenberg (the timing didn’t work out). Bambauch said he knew Horovitz would be great in this film as well, but he added, “It wasn’t till after I cast him, in a way, and saw him on set with a baby, walking around that apartment, that I was further aware of the resonance and poignance of Ad-Rock as a middle-aged dad with a sonogram tattoo.”
That image gets to the “grup” dilemma that lies at the heart of the film. “I think a lot of people get into their forties, you start having a different relationship to people in their twenties,” Baumbach said. “You kind of feel like, oh, I was just there, but it also feels like it was so long ago at the same time.”
That calls to mind a line from Greenberg: “A shrink said to me once that I have trouble living in the present, so I linger on the past because I felt like I never really lived it in the first place.” But Baumbach rejected the notion that he was particularly nostalgic — even if tapping into his childhood was good for his creativity. “If I am nostalgic,” he clarified, “I was savvy enough to know it wasn’t going to provide any sort of solution or satisfaction for these characters. But I think, really, actually I’m not particularly nostalgic. I’m certainly not nostalgic about my own work or my movies in any way.”
Still, the director realizes some would like to see him revisit his earlier films, like Kicking and Screaming. “I’m the opposite of Woody Allen’s problem, where everyone’s like, ‘We like your early funny ones,’” he said to laughter. “I have people saying, ‘I wish you’d tell stories about unhappy, unlikeable people again.”
Rather than being informed by his previous films, this one was inspired by the work of Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack and James L. Brooks — films that, Baumbach said, “were for people that were a bit older than me when I was a young adolescent [and] I was into movies. You know, Working Girl or Broadcast News or, you know, Tootsie was even a kind of a version of this kind of movie. They were all kind of mainstream and could be broadly funny but they were also very much about people and were human. I felt like I wanted to do my version of one of these kinds of movies.”
Despite its populist aspirations, While We’re Young does nod to Baumbach’s earlier works here and there: where Frances Ha ended with David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” this one starts and ends with a crib-music version of Bowie’s “Golden Years,” created by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. And it’s been noted that there are some parallels between Jamie and Baumbach’s one-time collaborator Joe Swanberg.
Baumbach does see a common theme in all of his movies — namely “the gap between our authentic selves and the selves we present to the world, the people we think we are and the people we actually are. I think as you get older at least you have a better shot of understanding maybe who you actually are and being okay with that.”
Update: BAM has announced that Baumbach will be on hand for the 7pm and 8pm screenings of While We’re Young on Friday, April 3. Tickets here.