Aging as an art

Print This Page

First Posted: 4/6/2015

Ben Stiller used to pride himself on his cutting-edge taste in music. But then he got married and had two kids and found himself with less time to stay tuned to what was hip and hot.

“I feel like having kids was the first time for me when I realized I had to not think of myself,” said the actor, 49, who’s married to actress Christine Taylor with whom he has two children: Ella, 13 and Quinlin, 9.

“You start to have these responsibilities and then you get to a point where you realize, like with your taste in music, that you can’t really keep up.

“I remember a few years ago [I heard a new song and I thought], “I’m not that aware of that, and it’s too much work to listen to it.’ ”

Stiller realized, in an instant, that he was getting older.

“Now, I try to listen to the different stations – like Alt Nation on Sirius – but I always find myself going back to Lithium [which is devoted to music of the 1990s].”

Themes of aging are central to Stiller’s new movie “While We’re Young,” a New York cross-generational comedy of manners from “Frances Ha” filmmaker Noah Baumbach.

Stiller stars in the movie (opening April 10 in Philadelphia) as Josh, a documentary director who feels like he’s in a bit of a rut. His latest project is nearly a decade in the making and it’s still not nearing completion. His wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) could never conceive so the pair decided not to have children. But, with all of their friends becoming parents, Josh and Cornelia are beginning to feel alienated from their nearest and dearest.

Enter hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a Brooklyn couple in their 20s who become Josh and Cornelia’s new besties. Jamie is a documentary filmmaker in awe of Josh’s work while Darby makes artisan ice cream.

Soon, the couples are inseparable. Cornelia goes along with Darby to a hip-hop exercise class where they work out to Tupac. And Josh tries to keep up with Jamie as they bike ride through the streets of New York City.

“Before we met,” Josh says to Jamie, “the only two feelings I had left were wistful and disdainful.”

But there’s a tension between the couples too. As the New York Times put it, the film delves into “the fraught relations between ascendant millennials and the rapidly aging members of Generation X.”

While Stiller said he can relate to Josh “and a lot of the issues that are going on in the movie,” it was his connection with Baumbach which initially secured his interest in the project.

In his acclaimed career, Baumbach has chronicled the angst of children of divorce in “The Squid And The Whale,” looked at the nature of warring siblings in “Margot At The Wedding” and showcased a young woman’s search for identity in “Frances Ha.”

Stiller and Baumbach first teamed up six years ago for “Greenberg,” which cast Stiller as a cranky failure forced to housesit for his more successful brother. While Stiller’s character is much nicer – and better adjusted – in “While We’re Young,” there are links between the two features.

“Noah has a great way of illuminating these details about life…and what it’s like to live your life,” Stiller said. “[He’s interested] in these experiences that don’t usually get translated to movies that often.

As an example, Stiller points to the running joke in “While We’re Young” involving Jamie’s inclination to never pick up a check.

“Those kind of things, those mini-dramas in our lives, wind up being big to us,” said the actor. “We think about those things for the rest of the night and no one [but Noah] really [depicts those moments].”

Another similarity between the Los Angeles-set “Greenberg” and the New York-set “While We’re Young” is the expert way which Baumbach uses each city to help tell his story.

“In both films, I wanted the city to kind of exist as it would around our fiction,” Baumbach said. “[I like that] feeling in movies where you can feel real life around something that is clearly scripted. The challenge becomes how can you get Ben Stiller into the world without people ruining your takes.

“Poor Ben. We put him on the street in L.A. for `Greenberg.’ We would hide in a van with a black curtain and put Ben on the street and [film him] as he went grocery shopping and mailed letters.

“In this movie, when you see him and Adam crossing Park Avenue, that’s actually Park Avenue and that’s what’s really going on in the subway and stuff. It’s a challenge but I always feel that it’s worth it in the end.”

The idea for the movie took root in Baumbach’s imagination after he began hanging out with younger people. The filmmaker, 45, is romantically involved with actress Greta Gerwig, 31. The pair met when the then-25-year old Gerwig was cast in “Greenberg.”

“What prompted [the writing of the movie] is that I…was reaching a point in life when I realized I was no longer the youngest person in the room,” Baumbach said.

As the director sees it, the generation gap between millenniels and Gen X-ers is widened by the constant stream of new technologies.

In “While We’re Young,” Baumbach chronicles the divide by depicting an older generation working to adapt to all the new tech gadgets while a younger generation embraces all things retro such as vinyl, board games and hand-made furniture.

“Every generation has to confront becoming old fogeys,” Baumbach said. “We all come to that point where we look at younger people and say ‘oh, we did it so much better,’ or the reverse—‘oh, they are doing it so much better than we did.’”

While Baumbach is closer in age to Josh and Cornelia, he insists he always intended to give members of both generations a fair shake.

“When I was writing it, I invested in all sides of the arguments,” the filmmaker said. “People assume that since I’m in my 40s, I’m going to take the side of the forty-somethings but I tried to have as much fun showing what’s not working in their marriage.

“Ben is in this 10 year investment in his documentary. I’m certainly not showing [him] as this guy who’s got it all figured out and the young people are crazy.”