jamesintexas Movie Review: Greenberg
Director: Noah Baumbach
Reviewed: April 2010
Ben Stiller stars as Roger Greenberg, a portrait in arrested development, a 40 turning 41-year old man who recuperates in his brother's gorgeous house in L.A., who interacts with his old friends as well as building a relationship with his brother's family assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig). Greenberg lives in his brother's home, tries to take care of his dog, walks everywhere (he cannot drive), and tries to reconnect with Beth, a past lover (Jennifer Jason Leigh). At some point in his past, Greenberg was in a band, close to signing a record deal. Yet, he left L.A., left the band, and his estranged relationship with his bandmates simmers until he returns from New York (with hints of being institutionalized in NYC at some point).
Stiller's performance is well-calibrated and disarming; as such a charismatic, hilarious actor, he dials it down and makes Greenberg complicated, difficult, and unlikable at times. Gerwig, unfortunately, does not have as much to do besides reacting to Greenberg; her character seems to exist only to serve as a pseudo-girlfriend to Greenberg.
Baumbach's earlier film The Squid and the Whale did a much better job as a study in awkwardness. Greenberg did constantly fill me with low levels of dread; the party scene had me on the edge of my seat because of the possible dangers of the dog and a container of pills. Rhys Ifans does an extremely solid job as Ivan Schrank, Greenberg's friend and ex-bandmate, though I'm not sure after so many encounters with him, why he remains Greenberg's friend. Ivan tells him, "Youth is wasted on the young." Greenberg replies, "I'd go further. I'd go: 'Life is wasted on people.'"
The last third of the film involves a possible spur-of-the-moment trip to Australia, frantic rushing around, some drug use, and epiphanies between friends and lovers. Ultimately, I do not think this film works as well as it should, but I cannot condemn it. Stiller's work is very credible; the uncomfortable factor is palpable. Baumbach's work is always interesting and studied.
And, a final caveat, I have to admit to my own biases: I don't necessarily get movies where people wander around all-day without jobs, with money of indeterminate amount from unknown sources, date their brother's employees, and do not drive.