Timeless style

Noah Baumbach on working with costume designer Ann Roth on While We're Young.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, Amanda Seyfried and Ben Stiller with While We're Young director Noah Baumbach, also starring Naomi Watts and Adam Driver with Charles Grodin, Maria Dizzia and Dree Hemingway
Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, Amanda Seyfried and Ben Stiller with While We're Young director Noah Baumbach, also starring Naomi Watts and Adam Driver with Charles Grodin, Maria Dizzia and Dree Hemingway Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Noah Baumbach says Academy Award Best Costume Design winner Ann Roth "has a way of dressing people - that you can't put your finger on." Roth won for Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe and Kristin Scott Thomas and is a BAFTA honoree for John Schlesinger's The Day Of The Locust, which starred Donald Sutherland, Karen Black and Burgess Meredith. Roth also received Oscar nominations for her work on Robert Benton's Places In The Heart and again with Minghella for The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Noah's 2012 film, Frances Ha, with Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner and Adam Driver, had no costume designer credit, although Sumner's godmother is famed costume designer Colleen Atwood.

While We're Young director Noah Baumbach on costume designer Ann Roth:
While We're Young director Noah Baumbach on costume designer Ann Roth: "She sees the whole movie. It's not just the clothing." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Baumbach first worked with Roth on Margot At The Wedding when she outfitted Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black. This time, Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Charles Grodin and Adam Horovitz get the designer's "timeless" touch.

While We're Young, last year's surprise film at the New York Film Festival, is the story of Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts), a childless couple in their forties who are befriended by Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried), a married couple in their twenties who "audit" Josh's continuing education class. Both men are documentary filmmakers in different stages of their career and so is Cornelia's famous father, Leslie Breitbart (Grodin). Darby makes ice cream. As Ibsen's Master Builder Solness, who gets the first, albeit written word of the movie so eloquently put it in 1873, "Open the door?" Meaning, to the younger generation? Moi?

When we meet Cornelia, dressed in a lovely lace collared shirt tucked underneath a grey-green mesh sweater, she is trying to figure out the plot of The Three Little Pigs to tell to a friend's baby. Neither she nor her husband remember what happens in Goldilocks either, but how could they when everyday life, with quarrels over lightbulb voltage or non-existing spontaneous vacations, has taken up their time. Josh has been busy finishing his documentary for almost a decade and can't decide what to re-shoot and what to cut. Paul Ricœur or Turkish politics? His father-in-law, Leslie, sums up the dilemma: "You showed me a six hour film that feels seven hours too long."

Ben Stiller is Josh - who can't decide what to re-shoot and what to cut.
Ben Stiller is Josh - who can't decide what to re-shoot and what to cut. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The clothes are so right that it hurts. "I love his shoes," says Ben Stiller's character about the younger man, who lovingly refers to him as "Joshy" or "Jessel" as they go shopping for a cool new hat. Adam Horovitz's Fletcher doesn't buy into it, though: "You're an old man with a hat." Seyfried wears bikini bottoms at a barbecue and roommate Tipper's (Dree Hemingway) sweatshirt reads "Some college I didn't go to."

Anne-Katrin Titze: There are so many specific details that distinguish the generations. One of the things are the costumes. You chose to work with the always brilliant Ann Roth. Could you talk a little bit about working with her?

Noah Baumbach: Sure. Ann and I started working together on Margot at the Wedding (2007). That was the first film we did together. For people who don't know, she worked with Mike Nichols most of his career and she did Midnight Cowboy and Klute. She sees the whole movie. It's not just the clothing. The actors can speak to this. She'll come in for fittings and she'll have this whole backstory and ideas.

Adam Horovitz as Fletcher to Josh: “You’re an old man, with a hat.”
Adam Horovitz as Fletcher to Josh: “You’re an old man, with a hat.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The first time [on Margot At The Wedding] I worked with her she started talking about the backstory of one of the characters and I thought I sounded stupid because I hadn't even thought of the backstory. She had this whole thing - "maybe she sits on the porch…" - she had this like it was a whole other movie and so I just kind of went along with it. Now I'm used to it. Now I can let her fill in the backstory for me.

She has a way of dressing people - that you can't put your finger on - that kind of transcends whatever the clothing actually is and somehow she sees the movie. And I'll see things later at dailies that are things like texture in a shirt or something and I'm so glad that's there and I didn't even realise when we picked it. And it was important for this movie too because we are dealing with now and it would have to be, I suppose, true to what's going on now and what these people would really wear. But I wanted it to feel timeless.

I knew we weren't going to really try and imitate Brooklyn youth culture. We would never catch up if we tried to document what was actually happening now. So with her [Ann] we just invented our own kind of style and, you know, she is the one to do that with. She is great.

AKT: She is brilliant.

Amanda Seyfried is Darby - who married in an empty water tower in Harlem.
Amanda Seyfried is Darby - who married in an empty water tower in Harlem. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

NB: As I was saying about Ann Roth, from a design perspective, we kind of did what was interesting to us. Ben was rollerblading. The feeling was, if they're not rollerblading now, someday they will. We were doing it the way it felt right to us. When I was writing, I invested in all sides of the arguments. People assume that maybe because I'm in my forties I'm going to take the side of the forty-somethings. We were trying to have as much fun showing what's not going on.

What's not working in the marriage or Ben's ten year investment in this documentary. We're certainly not showing it like this guy's got it figured out and the young people are crazy. I really felt like both sides had merit when I was writing it.

At the New York Film Festival press conference for Frances Ha, Noah commented: “I hadn’t shot in New York in a while, and I grew up here and live here, so I wanted it to feel the way I feel about New York."

While We're Young Hats - The clothes are so right that it hurts.
While We're Young Hats - The clothes are so right that it hurts.

NB on New York: Every year you feel like this is it - they've ruined it. That new New School building, that's it. You know the one that looks like an air conditioning vent on 5th Avenue and 14th Street? It's the worst. You walk by and think, I'm done. But somehow, New York still wins out.

While We're Young is just right, and exactly like Ann Roth's layered, detailed and unique clothes, Baumbach's vignettes can't be fully understood at first viewing because there is just too much to see. One recreational event is more grotesquely funny and real than the next - I had tears in my eyes laughing. Cornelia visits a baby music-making workshop with her freshly minted mother pal Marina (Maria Dizzia). The look of horror on Naomi Watts's face matches that of the screaming babies while they listen to the horrendously hysterical antics of the professional animationists and crazed mothers.

When Jamie and Darby - who married in an empty water tower in Harlem, like to walk the subway tracks of the D line, and collect anything pre-digital hip, such as vinyl records and chickens - invite their new friends to a special channeling ceremony at a villa in Ditmas Park, where participants dress in white, take some herbs and literally vomit out their demons into assorted cooking pots and wastepaper baskets, Bing Crosby is playing to accompany the cleansing.

While We're Young opens in the US on March 27.

Share this with others on...
News

Making a box office Attraction Fedor Bondarchuk on his science-fiction film

Wild ideas Travis Stevens on 68 Kill, music, pulp fiction and the terrors of Louisiana

Cinema, culture and modernity Olaf Möller on Helmut Käutner, Wolfgang Staudte and Harald Braun

History and destiny Olaf Möller on The Lost Years of German Cinema: 1949–1963

Highlights of Russian Film Week We pick four of the best from London fest.

Independent Spirit Award nominations announced Call Me By Your Name leads charge

More news and features

We're bringing you news, reviews and interviews with the stars from Made In Prague and the French Film Festival UK.



We've recently been covering Abertoir, the London Korean Film Festival, DOC NYC, the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, the Cambridge Film Festival, the London East Asia Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the London Film Festival.



Read our full for recent coverage.


Visit our festivals section.

Interact

Win a copy of the Blu-ray and book of A Man Called Ove, plus a DVD, T-shirt and graphic novel of Eat Locals in our latest competitions.