It’s a little jarring to think that Noah Baumbach has been directing movies now for 22 years. In some ways, he still seems like that fresh-faced kid who released Kicking and Screaming when he was only 26. Somehow, behind a curtain somewhere, Baumbach became a full-fledged “veteran director.” (To put this in perspective, Baumbach’s at the same stage of his career that Scorsese was when he was making Goodfellas and Cape Fear.) Baumbach, like contemporaries such as frequent collaborator Wes Anderson, have now been doing this a long time. They are no longer the new wave of directors, they are just “the wave.” And now, Baumbach may just have made his best movie.
And that’s not a claim made lightly. Baumbach’s filmography includes Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, Margot at the Wedding – and one of the best documentaries ever made about a filmmaker, De Palma (co-directed with Jake Paltrow). But with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), he’s arguably made his deepest and most complete film.
Dustin Hoffman plays Harold Meyerowitz, the father of Danny and Jean (Adam Dandler and Elizabeth Marvel), and their half-brother, Matthew (Ben Stiller). Their stories are divided in half, which builds anticipation because we have two of the biggest mainstream comedy stars of the last 20 years finally in a movie together, yet for a good portion of the film, they don’t share any scenes. Of course, Baumbach knows exactly what he’s doing. When the characters finally come together for the final act it’s truly powerful.
Baumbach does not like doing short interviews. So we had plenty of time to take a deeper dive into what he was trying to accomplish with The Meyerowitz Stories. And Baumbach can get a little skittish when talking about his movies and himself – like any normal person would – but it’s pretty obvious even Baumbach knows this movie is special.
The Meyerowitz Stories is currently playing at the New York Film Festival, as well as his partner’s film, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, a movie that is also getting rave reviews. This is the first time the pair has had competing films (after collaborating many times) and as Baumbach admits, yes, it’s weird. Ahead, Baumbach also discusses who else he’d have loved to have made a filmmaking documentary about in the same style of De Palma. (It’s a legitimate “what could have been” reveal).
And it wouldn’t be a Noah Baumbach interview without discussing the 1986 Ivan Reitman film, Legal Eagles. (That’s a joke, but this movie is, kind of strangely, featured in The Meyerowitz Stories and we do spend more time talking about Legal Eagles than I ever have before in my life.)
This has to be a movie in which, after, you think to yourself, “Pretty good.”
I had a great group. All those actors – you feel it in the movie – but working with them and their deep commitment, not only to the characters and the truth of the characters but also to the filmmaking process and just being open and available, it’s something as a director you feel grateful for. Some of them I was friends with beforehand, but we all did become friends from it in a real way, which does not happen often. You go around promoting a movie, pretending you all still hang out.
With your movies, I always have the illusion that the cast all seem to get along pretty well and it was a fun experience. Is that not the case?
That is true. No, that’s absolutely true. And I use a lot of people repeatedly, as you know, in films and I worked with my significant others. I mean, there is an intimacy, certainly, in all of that. I think with this one, there was so much exploration that could happen because people were so on point immediately that it makes it all so fun.
You’re making it sound like the actors in this one just came together and got it quicker than maybe past experiences? Is that accurate?
I wouldn’t even say that necessarily because every one’s different. But in response to your question about feeling a kind of pride about it, I was also working with Dustin Hoffman, who is somebody who I had great feeling for what he meant to me in my life as an actor. So then to work with somebody like that, and to then fall in love with the guy in reality and have this experience together, is a thrill. We did the premiere last night at the New York Film Festival and then I had Dustin Hoffman and Randy Newman flanking me up there, that’s a special thing.
In the past, you’ve had a lot of great casts, but this might be your best, pound for pound…
But, like Mistress America, a lot of the pleasure I think in that movie, or Frances Ha, is that you’re discovering people, you know? And the actors are these characters and it wouldn’t feel right for Candice Bergen to turn up in one scene, you know? That doesn’t fit in those movies. Whereas in this movie, I think there’s something about having people you have associations with like Candice Bergen…
Or Judd Hirsch…
Or Judd Hirsch or Adam Driver. I felt this movie, that actually enhances this movie as opposed to other ones I’ve done. And it’s not something I can totally articulate for you, but I think that you feel it. You know it when you’re making the movie and when you’re casting the movie. And this one, it was right. So I end up working with people like Emma Thompson, who I’ve loved for years and wanted to work with.
I felt that way seeing Judd Hirsch. He’s such a big part of my television watching childhood.
Sure. And you’re even leaving out Ordinary People, you know?
Ordinary People was the second movie I ever saw in a theater, my mom took me to that after my first, The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a heavy movie when you’re five.
Yeah, even The Empire Strikes Back is a little old for a five-year-old.
That’s a good point.
Let alone Ordinary People.