While We’re Young begins with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder and finishes with Paul McCartney’s “Let ’Em In” playing over the end credits. Because it’s a Noah Baumbach movie, you’re right to assume that both these things comment rather delightfully on the story that happens in between.
“I’ve always loved him,” muses Baumbach, about Macca, talking to the Straight from his home in New York. “Clearly, in the ’70s, there was this feeling that anything after the Beatles was a letdown for everyone. It’s true for all four of them that everyone was on their case all the time. We took it so personally. And understandably, because, you know… they’re the Beatles.”
Dragging a comment out of the filmmaker about the relative merits of a minor Wings hit is admittedly a bit frivolous, except that it isn’t. Taste is a thing that morphs from generation to generation; fertile ground for the writer-director in his newest movie, opening Friday (April 3).
If Baumbach’s last film, Frances Ha, dramatized the terror of getting through our late 20s, While We’re Young turns its attention to the next big transition, in this case focusing on a childless couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) whose sagging middle years are spruced up when they befriend Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), some 20 years their junior. Inside the context-free candy store of hipster Millennial-world (or Brooklyn, if you will), Stiller’s Josh finds himself grooving to funky hats, Bushwick ayahuasca ceremonies, and—gasp—Lionel Richie and Survivor.
“In a funny way, I think Jamie and Darby are like projections,” says Baumbach. “In a different movie they could be conjured up. They’re like ghosts. You have this couple in their 40s who need something, and this other couple appears and it provides a distraction for them and a new way of engagement in the absence of having kids in their lives; in the absence of feeling close to their friends; in the absence of their marriage moving forward in a healthier way.”
Naturally, things go south, with the generational dissonances in While We’re Young being painfully (and hilariously) well-observed. As a 45-year-old, Baumbach also realizes that he’s giving a contemporary buzz to an age-old dynamic. How much did the Boomers beef about his generation?
“That’s the thing,” he says. “When you look at technology and obviously how the Internet has changed things, and how rapidly things change, it’s just more notable. It’s more visual. Because this movie is taking place now, I had to of course engage in all that stuff. But I think essentially these feelings of being in your 40s versus being in your 20s—this story could be happening 20 years ago, too.”
It could, but it doesn’t make the film’s references to Facebook any less amusing. And for the record, Baumbach doesn’t partake.
“I just think it would take up too much of my time,” he says, with a sigh. “I’d just spend so much time thinking about it. I’d be sitting on a tweet; crafting it for three days; showing it to friends. ‘You think I should send this? Okay, I think I’m gonna do it…’”
And the ayuhuasca? Is Baumbach up for a little universal consciousness?
“No,” he answers. “I’m gonna stay out of it. I’ll take specific consciousness or whatever the opposite is, thanks.”