Roger Greenberg, an anxious and unsettled middle-aged man from New York City, is house and dog sitting for his older brother in L.A. He meets up with Florence, her brother's beautiful but insecure personal assistant, and calls awkwardly upon old friends with whom he has a checkered past. They get together, but he's prone to self-sabotage and is not an easy man to be with. The film is intrigued by him, but perhaps more intriguing is Florence, and the most serious question that the film poses is what circumstances would allow her to fall for such a self-obsessed and neurotic man, and whether a relationship such as this one could possibly work out. In that sense, the film seems deliberately structured as the inverse of the classic romantic comedy. Where in the standard rom-com we usually know that the two leads are made for each other and want them to come together and it's just details getting in their way, here it's more like we see what's inevitable and we don't want it to happen and we watch almost in horror at the emotional train wreck we know is on its way.
A beautifully filmed exploration of relationships and of the ways our pasts tend to define and color our present and limit possibilities, Greenberg will disappoint those who go into it expecting Ben Stiller to deliver the laughs. This is closer to Reality Bites than Night at the Museum but it's much more character study than comedy. There are some painfully awkward and funny moments, but this is not the kind of laugh-out-loud warm-your-heart romantic comedy you might expect based on the cover and the coverage. Stiller does deliver what may be the most nuanced performance of his career - Roger Greenberg is a kind of extreme variation on the self-deprecating and sarcastic but ultimately likable guy that Stiller tends to play. But the real stand out performance in this film is that of Greta Gerwig, whose depiction of Florence is as intimate and raw as anything you'd find in, say, the early film work of John Cassavettes. That shouldn't come as a surprise to those who've seen her in her ultra-low-budget film work, such as the intriguing but imperfect Hannah Takes the Stairs and in the mumblecore horror comedy Baghead; but here, where it feels less on-the-fly improvisational, with a script that's notable for its authenticity and economy, the performance is tighter and more nuanced.
It's clear the director, Noah Baumbach is deliberately drawing upon the small scale style of the ulta-low-budget indie genre known as mumblecore, given his use of Greta Gerwig as star and Mark Duplass (co-director of Baghead and The Puffy Chair and the much more recent Cyrus) as a secondary character. At the same time, the story feels like a kind of sequel to Baumbach's first film Kicking & Screaming (not the Will Ferrel soccer film but the other one) - since Greenberg and friends could easily be grown up versions of the naively optimistic and overly self-conscious characters from that film, in whom idealism and arrogance were not easily distinguishable. The episode that, as it comes to appear, defined their relationships with the past could easily have been the subject of an early Baumbach film.
The film looks great. The cinematography is rich, capturing authentic, lived-in Los Angeles locales. The emphasis on close-ups combined with widescreen creates a kind of bewildering intimacy, that fits the tone of the film exactly.
*** out of **** Noah Baumbach knows a lot about the truths hidden beneath human nature. He seems to know how to reach his audience through his understanding of humanity. As he demonstrated in "The Squid and the Whale", and now in the somewhat inferior "Greenberg", Baumbach hopes to strike that certain emotional chord in us all. And by golly, the man has done it again. While I didn't like "Greenberg" as much as I liked "The Squid and the Whale", Baumbach's latest is as deep … more
GREENBERG Written and directed by Noah Baumbach Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh Florence: Hurt people hurt people. Noah Baumbach, the Oscar-nominated writer and director of The Squid and the Whale, has a knack for creating characters that are troubled and difficult to be around. His fascination with giving a voice to those no one wants to hear, shows his immense sympathy as a writer … more
Don't go into this one thinking you'll get the usual Ben Stiller gig - it's him, and it's recognizable as an extreme variation on the character types he normally plays, but this is really a Noah Baumbach film. Beautifully filmed, excellent acting - especially by Greta Gerwig -and an intriguing character study. I liked it a lot - but I expect some will hate it.
A "romantic comedy/drama" featuring depressed and unlikable people is a tough sell. That GREENBERG works to the degree it does is a testament to the good writing and outstanding acting...but it cannot completely overcome the essential problem embedded in its premise. That doesn't mean a movie about unlikable people is a bad idea, but expecting such a film to receive a warm, loving embrace by the audience is a bit of a stretch. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) a New York based … more
Greenbergaims to recapture the raw flavor and psychological acuity of 1970s character portraits likeFive Easy Pieces--but the character in question is completely of the moment. Neurotic and anxious Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes to L.A. to stay in his brother's house, where he reconnects with old bandmates and falls, with painful awkwardness, into a relationship with his brother's personal assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig, sweetheart of the "mumblecore" movement). But this movie is not about plot--it's about human frailty and finding a moral or spiritual significance in caring for a dog or driving someone on an errand. Stiller sheds his usual bag of twitchy tricks and conveys the brittle spirit of a man defeated by his own intelligence. Gerwig has an odd, hapless charm; she makes aimlessness appealing. As a romance, the movie falters--while it's obvious why Roger would be attracted to Florence's youth and vulnerability, it's less clear why Florence wouldn't be repelled by Roger's sometimes-cruel instability. But writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) has gotten even better at capturing the history of two people with brief, incisive strokes; Roger's prickly history with his friends becomes vividly clear in a few conversations. As a core sampling of the contemporary psyche,Greenbergis rewarding. Also featuring excellent performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh (eXistenZ) and Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill).--Bret ...