Noah Baumbach's While We’re Young opens Glasgow Film Festival 2015
The darkly comic director's past films include The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg and Frances Ha
Born in Brooklyn to a novelist and a film critic, Noah Baumbach has a privileged intellectual’s squeamish loathing of privileged intellectuals: the characters in his films very often combine ample cerebral and creative gifts with an utter dearth of emotional intelligence. He shares some territory here with his friend Wes Anderson, whose films The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr Fox he co-wrote, although the Baumbach oeuvre is less whimsical, more rooted in a grim reality of human disconnectedness that sometimes – as in his recent, much-loved hipster comedy Frances Ha – blossoms into near-positivity. With his new film While We’re Young, starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, opening the Glasgow Film Festival in 2015, we look at the movies that have made Baumbach a director with whom the A-list wants to work …
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Baumbach poured long-held resentment over his parents’ divorce into this angry comedy of upper middle class manners – or the lack thereof – and got a breakout indie hit in return. Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels play posh New York parents whose vast knowledge of arts and literature and loyal dependence on psychoanalysis have done nothing to curb their tendency to be selfish horrors; Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline are the kids in the midst of it all. Though a pretty painful watch, the film struck a chord, counting an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay and three Golden Globe nominations among its many award nods.
Margot at the Wedding (2007)
The success of The Squid and the Whale clearly having motivated him to trawl for ever more troubling manifestations of human vileness, Baumbach followed it up with a comedy of an even blacker and bleaker hue. Nicole Kidman stars as a writer whose keen eye for other people’s flaws doesn’t provide her with much insight about her own; Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach’s wife at the time, is her more happily dysfunctional sister; and over a few days, everyone does everything they can to make one another unhappy until it becomes a little hard to care what becomes of any of them. Critics asked whether Baumbach’s interest in psychological conflict risked exhausting rather than enlightening his audience.
Though still invested in human failure and self-deception, Greenberg is a lighter piece than its predecessors – and arguably also a more complex and interesting one. A funnier script leavens Baumbach’s customary misanthropy, while a skilled cast create characters who are flawed but still feel redeemable. Ben Stiller brings real complexity to a role that permits none of his characteristic leading-man narcissism: that of failed musician Roger, recovering from a nervous breakdown and nursing his delusions at his brother’s fancy LA home. Providing an awkward sort of love interest is Greta Gerwig, who would become Baumbach’s romantic and creative partner as his relationship with Jennifer Jason Leigh headed for a 2011 divorce.
Frances Ha (2012)
Gerwig co-wrote the script for this mild paddle through late-twentysomething lifestyle angst, as well as taking centre stage as the eponymous Frances, a woman perpetually surprised by the fact that she can’t seem to fund Manhattan rents simply by drifting about smiling goofily. Frances loses direction even more when her best friend moves out of their shared apartment, straining their friendship and bringing Frances face to face with her own lack of a life plan. As she meanders through financial disarray and awkward social interactions on the way to a reconciliation with herself, audience members either swoon at the kooky adorableness of it all, or resist the urge to shout ‘PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER, WOMAN’ at the screen.
While We’re Young (2014)
For his new film, Baumbach teams up again with Ben Stiller, who, as in Greenberg, plays a weary older man who experiences some rejuvenation via friendship with younger and edgier people. Isolated by their age-appropriate friends’ continual breeding, childless couple Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) instead find fun with a pair of feckless hipsters, played by Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver. But how authentic is the friendship? Premiering at Toronto, the film met with significant acclaim; its Glasgow Film Festival screening will be its European premiere.
While We’re Young is the Opening Gala film at the Glasgow Film Festival, Wed 18 Feb, Glasgow Film Theatre. General release from Fri 3 Apr.