There are certain telltale signs which let you know you’re in a Noah Baumbach movie: everyone around you is some sort of creative artist, probably a writer, actor, director or dancer. They are all obsessed with living in New York. Distant fathers greet their offspring with the words: “There’s my son.” Nobody can ever find a parking spot. Everybody has just been or is about to be featured in either The New York Times or The New Yorker, the only publications which exist within the Baumbach Cinematic Universe (BCU).
Yet even though he has a tendency to set his films within a particular milieu, Baumbach is at his best when he manages to hone in on that which we can all relate to. Over the course of his almost quarter century career (Noah’s arc, you might say), spread across the 10 narrative features he’s written and directed (plus one, 1997’s Highball, which he disowned) he has done this time and again.
In his 2005 breakout hit The Squid and the Whale, he transformed the pain of his own parents’ divorce into a story that was at once touching, heartfelt and hilarious, and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (losing out to unsettling crime drama Crash, which also won Best Picture).
In his collaborations with partner Greta Gerwig, including 2012’s widely-acclaimed Frances Ha and their criminally-underrated 2015 follow-up Mistress America, he captured the melancholy rush of youth flying by in a way that connected even if you weren’t a part of their specific social group. It’s not as if the BCU isn’t rooted in reality. Shortly after Baumbach and Gerwig first made their relationship public, they were featured together in a joint profile in (where else?) The New Yorker.