The Barron and the Baumbach

Sophie: Yeah. I mean, it’s gross when he turns into the bug, but I love how matter of fact everything is.

Walt Berkman: Yeah, it’s very Kafkaesque.

Sophie: [She looks at him oddly. She laughs] ‘Cause it’s written by Franz Kafka.

Walt Berkman: Right. I mean, clearly.

Back in December 2005, I had never even heard of Noah Baumbach, yet alone knew anything about “The Squid and The Whale,” his new movie that was setting art-houses afire that winter.

I simply needed a movie to see that week and there was nothing playing. I had seen “Harry Potter,”  “Walk The Line” and “Rent,” figured out the twist in “Derailed” without seeing it, and I wasn’t about to sit through “Pride & Prejudice”. (I tried reading the book, expecting it to be just like “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” It wasn’t.)

I asked a friend for a recommendation, and she said “Squid” was great and I should see it. I knew nothing about it, but I liked Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and figured, why not? I made the arduous trek to the (since closed) Cumberland 4 Theatre in Toronto.

Eighty minutes later, I walked out half-laughing/half-crying my eyes out. “The Squid and the Whale” is a tale about two kids going through the acrimonious divorce of their parents in 1980s Brooklyn. The movie is painful, awkward, uncomfortable and very funny and instantly quotable. The Kafkaesque stuff is just a sample of the great dialogue, much of it too R-rated to post.

“The Squid and the Whale” is also a good barometer of whether someone’s parents are divorced. People with parents who split up love and get the movie, noting how realistic it is. For movies that hit close to home, “Squid” is right up there, though I’ve found that people whose parents didn’t split up don’t love the movie that much. And I can see why. Who wants to sit through 80 minutes of  Daniels and Linney being jerks?

But I instantly became a Baumbach fan (Baumbachian?) and soaked up his next projects. “Margot at the Wedding” was very good, if a little slow, with a miscast Jack Black. I’ll need to reevaluate it.

“Greenburg” with a miserable Ben Stiller was great, even if some friends were disturbed when I said I liked the main character and could relate to him. Apparently, that’s a sign that you’re a huge jackass. The movie also introduced me to Greta Gerwig, who could become one of my favorite indie actresses.

When I first heard about his new film, “Frances Ha,” I almost had a heart attack. It’s Baumbach reteaming with Gerwig in a film they wrote together, it’s about being in your 20s and it’s in black and white. Black and white. Holy crap. Thanks for coming, other films, but my number one of 2013 is basically taken. Also, Gerwig and Baumbach are a couple, which is amazing. I want to attend their wedding. Am I too old to be a ring bearer?

Per tradition, Baumbach was going to be at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville to do a Q andA. I scooped up tickets the minute they went on sale for me and my friend Michael, who loves Baumbach as much as I do. We both knew this movie was going to be fantastic.
And it was — instantly quotable lines, relatable characters and storylines, too-close- to-home scenes, everything I want in a Baumbach movie that also was in black and white  and had an awesome lead actress with great supporting players. If “Side Effects” wasn’t the best movie ever, this would be my movie of the year. But seriously, after seeing “Frances Ha,” go see “Side Effects.”

I wanted to meet Baumbach, so I did my usual leave during the credits and chat with him while he waits to go on trademark, which is how I met Alec Baldwin. This plan was foiled, but the Q and A was great. He’s very funny, personable and a tad pretentious. My kind of guy.

I wanted to ask a question, but I couldn’t think of anything, and they only took two questions from the audience. Also, every time I had a question in mind, Janet Maslin, the questioner, would ask it. Not cool, Janet.

After the Q and A,  I waited in the main lobby as they brought Baumbach out. He was in a rush to get somewhere (Date with Gerwig? Screening of a French movie? Filming another movie in black and white?) so Burns officials quickly led him out. But not before, I was face to face with the man, the myth, the Oscar-nominated legend.

Me: Noah, I really loved the movie.

Noah: Oh, thank you, I appreciate that.

Me: It was Kafkaesque.

(Cue awkward laughter.) – Sam Barron

Read Sam’s musings on movies and TV monthly in WAG’s w’reel deal.


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