The provocative emotional danger every up-and-coming generation poses on even its immediate predecessor, particularly as society swiftly changes, can be an equally harrowing and enthralling process. As people are forced to contend with the unexpected and fast changes the current youth introduces into their lives, especially in the areas of technology and culture, they must learn to accept the fact that they no longer have endless possibilities in front of them, and must now be established in their careers and relationships. That entrancing exploration into how people act when they’re at their most basic human element is powerfully explored in writer-director-producer Noah Baumbach’s new comedy-drama, ‘While We’re Young,’ which is set to be released in theaters on Friday.
‘While We’re Young’ follows the of Josh and Cornelia Srebnick (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts), a seemingly happy middle-aged New York couple who is trying to thrive in the city’s creative class. However, the two are unable to completely accept the fact that they’re getting older, especially since they don’t have children. In an effort to maintain their youth, Josh subconsciously refuses to finish his political documentary that he’s been working on for the past decade, which his celebrated intellectual father-in-law, Leslie(Charles Grodin), has chastised him for.
As the spouses try to cope with the fact that their personal and professional lives aren’t as successful as they had hoped, the two disregard their friends who are their own age (including former Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz), to connect with the seemingly uninhibited youth of Brooklyn. The two, and Josh in particular, become captivated with a young couple in their mid-20s, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). The spontaneous young couple inspires Josh and Cornelia, as they’re always ready to drop everything in pursuit of their next passion. The couples’ instant connection makes the documentary filmmaker feel as though he can finally recapture the youth he wishes he had, but never did.
As Jamie reveals to Josh that he’s inspired by his work, the older filmmaker becomes increasingly impressed by the younger couple. Josh becomes even more intrigued when Jamie and Darby reveal they embrace the relics of his generation, including vinyl records, the electric typewriter and bicycles. However, the relationship between the two men becomes strained when Jamie decides to make his own film that intrudes on Josh’s work, including involving Leslie in his own movie. Josh begins to view the younger filmmaker’s acts as a sense of betrayal, which leads him to confront his former friend. In the process, the group begins to question whether anyone truly owns their own intellectual property anymore, and whether anyone can sustain meaningful relationships with people of another generation, who view society so drastically differently than they do.
Stiller, Seyfried, Horovitz and Baumbach all generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘While We’re Young’ during a press conference at the Crosby St. Hotel in New York City. Among other things, the actors and writer-director-producer discussed how the comedy-drama’s filmmaker tried to show Josh is concerned about showing his own truth in his work, but to an extent all art is based on other other people’s intellectual ideas; how Baumbach also infused all of the characters in the film with positive and negative attributes of their respective generation, so that all viewers can relate to, and understand, them; and how the writer-director made Josh a documentarian so that he would not only visually chronicle life’s challenges in his film, but also force him to collaborate with people of all backgrounds while making his movie.
Question (Q): This film features themes that everyone can relate to, as it focuses on the characters accepting that they’re maturing, and the differences between the generations. At what point did you all feel as though you were all “adults,” and that there was a disconnect between you and younger people?
Ben Stiller (BS): That moment for me was when I realized all I listen to is the Beastie Boys. (laughs) I feel like having kids was the first time that I realized I had to stop always thinking about myself first. I haven’t really thought about myself getting older, but you start having these more mature responsibilities.
However, you do start to realize that you’re getting older when you can’t keep up with the latest trends in music. That started years ago, when I started thinking, Oh, I’m not aware of that type of music. I’ll try to listen to newer types of music, but it’s too much work. But then I always find myself going back to the music I enjoyed when I was younger.
Q: How do you all feel like the advancement of technology is impacting the quality of human relationships?
BS: I think there are good and bad aspects to technology. I’m currently shooting on location, so to be able to FaceTime and Skype with my kids is amazing. But on the opposite end, with such technology as texting, it’s much easier to hide behind it, and not have actual human interaction. A lot of kids in their 20s don’t talk to each other on the phone anymore-to them, texting is talking. Not that I know what the kids are doing. (laughs)
Q: Amanda, what did you like most about your character of Darby, and are there any lessons you learned from her?
Amanda Seyfried (AS): Well, I was attracted to the fact that she doesn’t seem to worry about much. There’s this burden that I carry on my shoulders constantly, so I’m actively working on really loosening up. So I’m learning how to be so mindful all the time from her.
Q: The overall film shows that people often take the most poignant aspects of life from other people, like the documentary takes its most significant elements from Darby’s life. Ben, when your character brings that up to everyone else, and hopes they’re feeling the same passion, they’re hesitant to accept that idea. What do you think about that in real life, in relation to real art?
BS: That’s a really deep question. I don’t know-I think Josh in the movie is more concerned about truth in his work and cinema. I think that all art is based on other art, to a certain extent. But what I think Noah’s talking about in the film is a very real thing.
But this idea has been going on for awhile, especially with reality television. That genre blurs lines in a lot of ways, in regards to what’s real and what isn’t, what’s scripted and what isn’t, and what people want to see, in documentaries in particular. They want to be entertained, but I think documentaries can actually tell you the truth while also being able to draw you in.
But where is that line of reality and entertainment? I don’t know-I’m not a documentarian. That’s something they often have to deal with, and I’m sure it’s tougher today, as people now are so used to being entertained by “reality” television. But great documentarians know how to fashion a story to make it dramatic and truthful. So those creative choices are always artistic.
Q: Following up on that question, Noah, what was the process of deciding to make Josh a documentary filmmaker, as opposed to a narrative filmmaker?
Noah Baumbach (NB): Initially, I liked the idea that being a documentarian could be an occupation that he could have that would truly be visual, as well as be collaborative with everyone involved. The way you capture a documentary is also different from just filming life. But I didn’t want Josh and everyone involved in the documentary to be overtly staging something. I wanted the film to represent each generation in different ways, and that could be something that an audience could see and react to.
Once I had this documentary idea, I had to then engage in these questions of authenticity about the characters. But I didn’t feel as though I was coming to these conclusions completely by myself-I was showing them through these characters’ marriages. I had to find a solution that was satisfying to the movie.
Q: There are so many details that distinguish the generations, one of the most important ones being the costumes, which were designed by Ann Roth. What was the process of working with her on the film?
NB: Ann and I started working together on ‘Margot at the Wedding.’ Most people don’t know that she worked with Mike Nichols throughout most of his career. She sees the whole movie, not just the clothing. The actors will go in for fittings with her, and she’ll have this whole backstory for their characters.
The first time I worked with her, she started talking about the backstory for one of the characters. I thought I would sound stupid, because I hadn’t even thought of the backstory. She said, “Maybe she sits on the porch, and this happened to her;” it was like this whole other movie, and I just went along with it. But now I’m used to that process, and can let her fill in the backstory for me. She has a way of dressing people, which transcends what the clothing actually is, as she sees the movie. I’ll then see things, like texture, later in dailies, and I’ll be like, I’m so glad that’s there.
I was happy with her process, because we have to be true to what these characters would truly wear. I wanted the story to feel timeless, and we weren’t going to really imitate Brooklyn youth culture. We would never catch up if we tried to capture what was really happening now. So while working with Ann, we created our own style.
Q: Ben, how do you relate to your character? In real life, are you skeptical when a younger, less established artist approaches you with a project?
BS: That’s a good question. I don’t know if the character Adam Driver plays in the movie would know the entire process for his project, since it has so many grey areas. In general, I try to be positive and give them the benefit of the doubt that they have a plan.
But I do relate to a lot of the issues that are going on with the character in the movie. I think Noah has a great way of illuminating these little details about life, and these interactions between people. He also knows what it truly means to live life, and these experiences that don’t translate into movies that often. Movies are usually about bigger and more dramatic events, but Noah finds drama in these little moments. That’s what’s so interesting to me about his projects. As an actor, you can think, I’ve had that experience.
There’s that running joke in the movie that Jamie’s never picking up the check. So you can relate to those moments that seem so dramatic and big in real life, and make you think about them for the rest of the night.
Adam Horovitz (AH): Hey, it only happened that one time-I was going for my wallet. (laughs)
Q: Adam, was it easy for you to connect to your character, and what really attracted you to the role?
AH: Well, Noah asked me to play the role, so I said yes. I love the movies that he makes, and what the other actors do in their projects. I did feel connected to the character. As a musician, as you put out records and the years go by, new styles of music are continuously being released, but you don’t always follow the latest expressions. So it was interesting to play the guy who didn’t always follow the latest styles in the film.
Q: Ben and Noah, this is the second film you worked on together, after you shot ‘Greenberg’ together, which is a very L.A.-centric movie. But this film is much more of a New York story. How do the settings and cities that you film in become characters in the films?
BS: I think the shooting experiences in the two cities are very different. I think ‘Greenberg’ had a more laid back feeling when we were filming it in L.A., as both cities have such a different energy. But both films had small crews that worked in a focused way. I liked the energy Noah captured of both cities in each film.
NB: In both films, I wanted the cities to exist around our fiction in the stories. I like movies where you feel real life around something that’s clearly scripted. So the challenge was how do you get Ben Stiller in the world of each film, without people ruining the takes? We put poor Ben on the streets of L.A., and tried to get takes where people in the background wouldn’t ruin the shots. (laughs)
In ‘Greenberg,’ we would hide in a van in which we knocked out the windows, and put up black curtains. Then we would film from behind the curtain, as Ben was on the street, grocery shopping and mailing letters. On this film, as you see him and Adam crossing Park Ave., it’s really Park Ave., and people were just going on with their lives. The process is always a challenge, but it’s worth it.
Q: Noah, you started your career as a filmmaker here in New York, and in the movie, Adam Driver’s character is starting his career in the city, as well. Do you think New York is a place that can still cultivate new artists?
NB: I think it can, but it’s more of a challenge now than what it was; however, people are still seeming to do it. Every year you feel as though something in the city has changed to ruin the possibilities of thriving in this environment. But New York always seems to win in the end, and people find ways to be here. I do wish the process was easier, though.
Q: What was the process of not too heavily emphasizing the us vs. them aspect of the characters within the story?
NB: Well, from a design prospective, we did what was interesting and felt right to us. Ben began rollerblading after Amanda gave them to him. We felt like if they weren’t rollerblading now, they would be someday. When I was writing the script, I invested in all sides of the argument.
People assumed that because I’m in my 40s, I would only emphasize the positive sides of the 40-somethings. But I tried to also show what wasn’t working in their marriage, and the 10-year investment Ben’s character put into his documentary. I didn’t try to show that Ben had everything figured out, and the young people were crazy. I felt like both sides had merit when I was writing the script, and people would take away what they want. I’m surprised how people interpret my movies, but I genuinely do like all sides they consider.
Written by: Karen Benardello