whilewereyoung-posterIn this poignant and funny film, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia Srebnick, happily married middle-aged members of New York’s creative class. They tried to start a family and were unable to — and have decided they’re okay with that. But as Josh labors over yet another edit of his cerebral documentary, it’s clear that he has hit a dry patch and that something is missing.

Enter Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a free-spirited young couple who are spontaneous and untethered, ready to drop everything in pursuit of their next passion — retro board games one day, acquiring a pet chicken the next. For Josh, it’s as if a door has opened back to his youth — or a youth he wishes he once had. It’s not long before the restless fortysomethings, Josh and Cornelia, throw aside friends their own age — including Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz in a supporting role — to trail after these young hipsters who seem so uninhibited, so Brooklyn cool. “Before we met,” Josh admits to Jamie, “the only two feelings I had left were wistful and disdainful.” But is this new inspiration enough to sustain collaboration and friendship with a couple 20 years their junior?

While We’re Young is a moving comedy of manners about aging, ambition, and success, as well as a moving portrait of a marriage tested by the invading forces of youth. Few films have explored the weird, upended logic of urban sophisticates: the older ones embracing their iPads and Netflix, the young ones craving vinyl records and vintage VHS tapes. While We’re Young also features Charles Grodin and Maria Dizzia. Noah Baumbach’s always insightful films include The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, and Frances Ha. I sat down with him in Los Angeles.

Danny Miller: I so love your movies and I wonder if it’s fair to say that each film exposes a particular element of what you’re going through in your own life at the time.

noahbaumbachNoah Baumbach: I guess so but I don’t think it’s necessarily a conscious thing. I’ve been wanting to do a movie about couples for a long time. I was interested in this idea of how couples make friends with other couples but when it finally came together it certainly included more of what I’m thinking about in my life now — including issues of middle age and parenthood.

I love how the younger Jamie and Darby have developed this kind of retro chic about doing things the way we used to do.

That’s definitely something I’ve noticed. I’m fascinated at how people my age have become addicted to these things that didn’t exist when we were younger. I remember saying things like “Oh, I’ll never text” — until I got an iPhone! It’s like we’ve been handed crack cocaine in our thirties and forties. I actually feel quite strongly about it. I was recently in a room filled with creative people who were about my age and we were all saying how we hated it and how insidious it is but we admitted that we can’t stop ourselves. It’s interesting to me to think of grown people who are addicted to this kind of stuff, it’s very insidious.

What I love about the characters in many of your films is that they often broach the border of being completely insufferable and yet we always end up relating to them and caring a lot about them.

I find that the older I get, the more pleasure I get when I end up liking someone who I didn’t think I liked initially. I think when you’re younger you think, “I could never be friends with someone who does X or Y,” but then you start to realize that you can like people for a lot of different reasons. But I don’t think of my characters in terms of their flaws or likeability, I just think of them as people who are interesting to me and interesting to the story I’m trying to tell.

I love when Ben Stiller’s Josh says about Adam Driver’s Jamie,  “He’s not evil, he’s just young.” I have to admit I shared Josh’s opinion of Jamie at one point as being a master manipulator. Do you have a more generous attitude about Jamie?

I identify with Josh, too, at that point in the movie. But what was interesting to me was that in some ways no one could live up to what Josh has invested in Jamie. In the movie Jamie represents so much for Josh — an alternate fantasy version of himself at a younger age, and he kind of falls in love with his own projection. There’s a point in the movie where we’re seeing Jamie through Josh’s eyes when he needs to seek out the bad guy to deal with his loss.


The whole cast is so excellent but I was especially intrigued by what a charismatic presence Adam Driver was as Jamie even when we see him engaging in some pretty bad behavior.

What I loved about Adam as an actor is that he wasn’t afraid of the darker elements of Jamie, but he really makes a case for him, he’s just so compelling. Adam is such a physical presence as well as a charismatic presence and he just created this amazing character.

I enjoyed the way he talks almost like he was some kind of character Jimmy Cagney would play in a movie. I read about other people who were attached to these parts before this amazing cast was signed. Do you find you tailor your roles to the individual actors in some ways?

It’s more that you see what they start doing with what you’ve written and you go from there. I never really use improvisation in my films — for me it’s about interpreting what the text is. That doesn’t mean I won’t change things, the script is a living-breathing document when you’re shooting, but it’s always interesting to see what the specific actors bring to the lines. As I’m writing, I have a very specific concept in my head and I enjoy seeing that change as the film gets made.

I saw that there was a “Growing Up Baumbach” retrospective of your films in several cities this month. Does that sort of freak you out that you’ve now been around long enough to have a retrospective?

Kind of! And that’s sort of what this movie is about, realizing that you have a lot of life behind you. It’s really nice to have made a few of these and feel pretty good about them.

When we talked last time just before Frances Ha came out, I asked if you could imagine yourself at the helm of some big studio blockbuster. You said no, that as far as you were concerned, that’s just a completely different business than what you do. Do you still feel that way?

I do. I mean, it’s not that I wouldn’t be interested in making a genre film or something more overtly commercial, but up to this point I’ve originated everything that I’ve done. I guess I’d have to invent a superhero that wasn’t trademarked!

While We’re Young opens in theaters on March 27, 2015 in New York and Los Angeles and on April 10 nationwide. Noah Baumbach will be doing Q&As in New York on Friday, March 27, at the Lincoln Square Theater (7:00 pm) and the Union Square (8:10 pm) and in Los Angles on Saturday, March 28, at the Landmark (5:40 pm) and Arclight Hollywood (8:00 pm) and on Sunday, March 29, at the Landmark (4:50 pm).