Family & Companions
Often described as witty, insightful and unapologetically New York, it was no surprise that writer-director Noah Baumbach drew comparisons to Woody Allen and Whit Stillman - compliments the filmmaker has relished throughout his career. A childhood spent in art house theaters, soaking in Howard Hawks, François Truffaut and Jean Renoir, helped inform his lifelong ambition to become a filmmaker. Baumbach's passionate, almost obsessive love for film was finally realized when he helmed his debut feature, "Kicking and Screaming" (1995), on through his seminal film, "The Squid and the Whale" (2005) - the quasi-autobiographical drama that positioned him firmly inside the pantheon of meaningful filmmakers.
Born on Sept. 3, 1969 and raised in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, NY, Baumbach was exposed to writing and film at an early age, thanks to parents, Georgia Brown, longtime film critic for the Village Voice, and Jonathan Baumbach, author of local renown and onetime film critic for the Parisian Review. After attending St. Ann's and Midwood High School, he left the city and journeyed to Poughkeepsie, NY to attend Vassar College, where he majored in English and wrote and directed his own plays. Baumbach spent the summer after graduation working as a messenger for The New Yorker and writing the script for "Kicking and Screaming." With finished script in hand, the aspiring writer journeyed to Chicago in 1991 where he became acquainted with Carlos Jacott, the future star of the film, and spent the next four years trying to get his first movie made.
"Kicking and Screaming" told the story of four twenty-something ne'er-do-wells whose lack of motivation, inability to sustain meaningful romantic relationships and obsession for pop culture had paralyzed them into doing nothing with their lives. Baumbach's talky, intellectual film effectively delved into the anxiety and uncertainty any group of young friends - regardless of generation - feel when suddenly thrust out on their own. Though vaguely autobiographical - he admitted drawing from his life and basing some characters on friends - Baumbach maintained that his film was more personal in tone and feeling than a rehash of true events. A promising entry at the 1995 New York Film Festival, "Kicking and Screaming" received distribution in Los Angeles and New York, but failed to crack six figures at the box office. It did, however, receive a fair amount of critical acclaim, making it an art house hit.
While finishing "Kicking," Baumbach began writing his next film, "Mr. Jealousy" (1995), a comedy-of-manners about a former journalist-turned-substitute teacher (Eric Stoltz) who falls in love with an art historian (Annabella Sciorra) and becomes so jealous of her past romances, that he joins the same therapy group as her ex-boyfriend (Chris Eigeman). Baumbach was again accused of mining his life for art, but he was steadfast in his denial. His sophomore feature was again hailed by critics and did well on the festival circuit - it traveled through Toronto, Seattle and Los Angeles - but failed to capture more than art house attention at the box office. Nonetheless, Baumbach had begun to make a name for himself as a sharp-witted filmmaker to rival those who were once his inspiration.
Only three weeks after wrapping the "Mr. Jealousy" shoot, Baumbach began filming his third feature, "Highball"- an ultra-low-budget experiment using much of the same cast and crew. Shot over a murderous six days that resulted in a falling out with a producer, "Highball" depicted the comic antics occurring between friends during three parties over the course of a year. Baumbach divorced himself from the project, feeling that it was never properly finished. Lions Gate later picked it up for straight-to-video distribution, but by then Baumbach had moved on. For the better part of the next decade, the director remained quiet. He wrote and shot a sitcom pilot for ABC about three guys in their 30s, but like most pilots, it died a quiet death without having aired.
It was during this down time that Baumbach developed an important friendship with NY-based writer-director Wes Anderson. The kindred spirits collaborated on the script for Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004) and Baumbach broached Anderson with the idea for his fourth feature, "The Squid and the Whale." A bleak comedy about the divorce of two intellectual and emotionally distant parents (Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney) and the effect joint custody has on their two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline), the autobiographical nature of this film could not be overlooked. Baumbach's parents had divorced and shuffled him and his brother back and forth as children - an arrangement the director realized was absurd while making the film. But that was where similarities ended - the characterizations and specific events in "The Squid and the Whale" were entirely fictional. Meanwhile, Baumbach received his usual critical kudos while winning several important honors, including the Waldo Salt Award for Writing at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay. He was also nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and Independent Spirit Awards for his directing and screenplay.
After marrying his longtime girlfriend, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach cast her as a free-spirited woman who reunites with her uptight sister (Nicole Kidman) on the eve of her nuptials in "Margot at the Wedding" (2007). Baumbach again proved his mettle with character-driven family dramas, though despite top notch performances, the overly talky film did not generate nearly the buzz of his earlier outings. He next teamed with buddy Wes Anderson to co-script Anderson's first animated feature, an adaptation of children's author Roald Dahl's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009). Both men were back in critics' good graces for the clever, charming, and unusual looking stop-motion film, which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Film. Baumbach was back behind the camera for "Greenberg" (2010), co-scripting with wife Leigh the studio comedy about a middle-aged man (Ben Stiller) at a crossroads.
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Feature directorial and screenwriting debut, "Kicking and Screaming"
Second feature as writer and director, "Mr. Jealousy"
Third film "Highball" shot in one week after completion of "Mr. Jealousy," using much of the same cast and crew
With director Wes Anderson, co-wrote "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"
Wrote and directed "The Squid and the Whale," a story based on the true childhood experiences of Baumbach and his brother during their parents' divorce; earned an Academy award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Independent Spirit Award nominations for Directing and Screenplay
Directed his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Margot at the Wedding"; also wrote screenplay
Co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" with director Wes Anderson
Co-wrote with wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, the screenplay for "Greenberg"; also directed the film
Penned the animated feature "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" with director Eric Darnell
Directed "While We're Young"
Directed "Mistress America"