While We're Young, Ben Stiller Naomi Watts

Soundtracking Noah Baumbach's While We're Young

Noah Baumbach unveiled his latest offering – While We’re Young – back in Spetember with a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and now it's finally making its way to Cineplex screens across the country. In keeping with Baumbach’s cinematic output to date, his latest leans on a carefully selected soundtrack as a key storytelling tool.

This time out Baumbach looks at the divide between the current crop of 40-somethings (personified by the lead couple, Josh and Cornelia, portrayed by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) and their millennial 20-something counterparts (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried).

The premise may seem to write itself: The older generation fears and disavows the music of the one that follows it and makes endless cracks about “back in the day.” Baumbach, however, doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he uses the music to cleverly differentiate each generation’s relationship to music.

One of the most prominent examples comes from a party that Jamie (Driver) hosts. He reaches out from a wall packed with records and drops the needle on a little something to get the party started.

 

The kitsch factor is somewhat lost on Josh and Cornelia who grew up with the song and its status as a ubiquitous hit. Later, Jamie tries to psych Josh up for an interview with Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” which is met by the comment: “I still remember when this song just sucked.”

It goes deeper than that, of course with each side appropriating in its own way. Josh marvels at Jamie’s wall of carefully-cultivated, nostalgic records (“everything from Jay-Z to Thin Lizzy to Mozart,” he marvels) and then later admits to “selling his CD collection” to raise money for his ongoing documentary project.

On the flip side, there are Josh and Cornelia’s friends. Fletcher - a brilliantly cast Adam Horovitz, better known as the Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock - obsesses over the packaging for Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, one of the first albums of the 21st century to be granted classic status, thanks largely to the now-40-something set.

Baumbach has been a musical selection expert for years. Just last year he made David Bowie’s “Modern Love” the centrepiece of the critically-acclaimed Frances Ha. In the early part of the century he set the climax of The Squid and the Whale to Lou Reed’s epic “Street Hassle”.

He forged a partnership in 2010 with James Murphy, DFA label founder and the genius behind LCD Soundsystem. Murphy scored Baumbach’s Greenberg, offering up a hybrid of musical score and song-cycle.

That same year, Murphy would put out what he has declared to be the final LCD Soundsystem album, “This is Happening.” He has spent the subsequent years producing, working with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Arcade Fire as well as teaming up with Bowie on a remix that is possibly the latter’s greatest track in over 20 years.

The good news for Murphy fans is that he is back to score While We’re Young. Though his work doesn’t get the same screen-time as it did in Greenberg, it will likely have its depths revealed once the official score gets released.

The heavy-lifting in the film is done by the soundtrack and less the score. A Tribe Called Quest, Paul McCartney and even Antonio Vivaldi, all get their share of screen-time.

But the first and final word goes to Bowie. The film opens with Murphy’s take on Bowie’s 1975 classic, “Golden Years,” taking on a “Rockabye Baby!” tone in what could be another generational in-joke. Baumbach book-ends the film by playing the original over the film’s end credits.

While We’re Young opens on April 3, so until you can watch it for yourself, here’s Bowie, reliving his own “Golden Years.”