- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

No one wants to grow up; no one likes getting old. But time has its way with sinner and saint alike, with neither mercy nor prejudice.

So it is for Josh and Cornelia, the middle-aged couple at the center of writer/director Noah Baumbach’s film “While We’re Young,” which opens Friday in the District of Columbia.

As portrayed by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, Josh and Cornelia are childless, living a comfortable but somnambulant bourgeois life in New York. One day, a free-spirited 20-something couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), enter their lives and quickly turn their day-to-day expectations upside down.

“I was sort of looking to do a kind of comedy that I liked as a kid,” Mr. Baumbach said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Movies like the studios used to make — they were like adult comedies often about marriage, but they were character-based but also had broader humor, and they had substance to them, too, though. I kind of wanted to sort of do my version of that kind of movie.”

Mr. Baumbach’s films include “Frances Ha,” “Kicking & Screaming” and “The Squid and the Whale,” the latter of which provided a superfluity of uncomfortable laughter. He credits the work of such directors as James L. Brooks, Woody Allen, Sidney Pollock and Mike Nichols for shaping his artistic sensibilities.

In “While We’re Young,” Josh and Cornelia begin, if not act, like Jamie and Darby to emulate their energy, almost as if they were adopting the younger couple.

“In some ways, [it was] almost a projection of their younger selves,” Mr. Baumbach said, “but it could also be they’re almost like surrogate children, too. In thinking on that, I kind of then sort of started to engage [the characters] in this generational sort of divide.”

Upon first visiting the 20-somethings’ ironically posh loft, Josh is amazed to find that Jamie’s entire music collection is on vinyl — something he, too, once had before making the shift to digital. Almost everything about Jamie and Darby is retro, harking back to Josh and Cornelia’s glory days, which the younger couple were too young to appreciate, if even experience.

Josh begins imitating Jamie’s hipster attire — including the same hat. Cornelia joins Darby for hip-hop dance classes.

Mr. Baumbach, himself divorced with a son, said he knows what it is like to be enthusiastic about a newborn while wearying of other couples in the same situation, a phenomenon Josh and Cornelia endure often in the film.

“I’ve been on both sides of that,” Mr. Baumbach, 45, said with a laugh. “I felt like I knew what that conversation sounded like.

“All of my movies are personal. They’re not autobiographical, but they kind of are personal observations,” he said.

Underneath Josh and Cornelia’s stab at a second adolescence runs a dark current of buried resentments. Josh has been working on an unfocused documentary for a decade but eschews the help of his father-in-law, a famous documentarian. Jamie, an aspiring filmmaker, is not above exploiting his newfound connections.

“One way of looking at it is that Jamie seems one way and then turns into something else,” Mr. Baumbach said. “But another way is thinking of it [as] Josh kind of hands him the keys to the kingdom. Jamie is always who he is. It’s just that Josh wants him to be something that he’s not.”

In the film’s most outrageous sequence, Josh and Cornelia join Jamie and Darby for a shamanistic tea ceremony, and all gathered begin to hallucinate, with uncomfortable truths spoken and regrettable actions taken.

In addition to the scene’s comedy, Mr. Baumbach saw a dramatic opportunity for the characters to have “real insight. The drug is designed to [take users] to darker places and expunge [the darkness] with vomiting. I was doing it for laughs, but I also felt that, what if real truths did find their way” into the scene.

Mr. Baumbach stressed that the generational divide between the two couples is key to Josh and Cornelia facing their own midlife ennui as well as coming to understand that while they may no longer be young, they have experience and scruples on their side — something their fresh-faced friends may not.

“Both Jamie and Darby are kind of projections of Josh and Cornelia,” he said. “In another movie, they’d almost be like ghosts in a way. They’re kind of conjured up because, on some level, Josh and Cornelia know they need some kind of change in their lives. They don’t consciously know it, but unconsciously they do.”


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