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Greenberg

A 2009 comedy movie directed by Noah Baumbach.

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Heartfelt, honest, and a very interesting character study.

  • Jan 17, 2011
Rating:
+3
*** 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 and profoundly moving as any of his films should be. There are many moments in which I was touched, and strangely enough I could relate to the film's titular character. This doesn't mean that I liked him, and I'll assume that few will. He's not a pleasant character to base your film around, but maybe that's all a part of the charm. After all: "Greenberg" is not your average drama. It's one of the deepest, character-driven works I've seen in a long time, and I find it hard to find solace in any big Movie Award Ceremony without Ben Stiller's name on the list. His work in "Greenberg" is some of his best, and it's a great antidote to what other crap he's been in recently. It's proof that Stiller, like some very talented comedians, can tackle a dramatic role. In fact, he might actually be better at drama than he ever was at comedy. But then again, there have been comedies in which I've liked Ben Stiller a lot. It's just that "Greenberg" presents the man exploring a new venue. And in many ways, he sort of makes the film; but not without a little help from his two very endearing co-stars. There is a lot to look at in this slightly imperfect but intriguing drama. It's some sort of deep, it won't appeal to all, and it's incredibly mature. And that's what I like most about it. If I have one major complaint outside of the film's slight imperfection, it's that it was marketed poorly. The trailers hint towards a dramedy. "Greenberg" turns out to be more "drama" than "comedy". That's not to say that it's devoid of laughs, but it's not really meant to be a comedy at all. It's meant to be moving; it's meant to be deep. And in many ways it is. Just don't be fooled by such misleading marketing; this film is far more fascinating than it is made out to be. And before you ask, it's also not about a man doing nothing. Please, just don't listen to the theatrical trailer. It gets the film all wrong. Perhaps the worst person to associate with the film is the one who put the trailer together, because anyone else is essentially key to just how well "Greenberg" does as a drama. See it, even if it's a little depressing. It's worth the time.

The titular character of this film is a particularly unlikable guy for a lot of people. He's a depressed, aimless, and possibly suicidal middle-aged man who prefers the pill over the pen. Roger Greenberg has some emotional problems which prevent him from caring about social interaction, although he works well in keeping his past connections going. Greenberg is in LA for a few weeks to watch over his brother's house (and the dog). While in town, he intends to catch up with his friend Ivan, his ex-wife Beth, and maybe even build some new relationships as well. One person in particular who Greenberg manages to reach is Florence; an attractive, slightly younger woman who has been jumping from one man to another for quite some time. Both Greenberg and Florence have a thirst for the real kind of human connection; the one that you can only have once, and with one person. And with "Greenberg" being a more complex drama, you can expect things to go a bit downhill at points. Things such as Greenberg's emotional problems and Florence's own issues tend to get in the way of their romantic relationship, and the film itself often treads depressing but moving territories. It's somewhat risky of Baumbach to want to tread these particular waters since today's movie standards include a whole lot of fun, fun, fun. But it kind of comes to no surprise, since Baumbach has made depressing but ultimately touching films before. "Greenberg" sort of fits right in there with other Baumbach-directed films. I liked it; I really did. The film has a heart, and the characters are sort of endearing once you get to know their flawed, troubled selves. I related the most with Greenberg, since I too have faced such intense social anxiety. I too have trouble relating with the confusing race that is Man and Women. I too have felt broken inside. Only approach the film if you're expecting it to be something more than the usual "up-and-down" drama. It's mostly full of "downs", but that's the entertaining part of it. I'm often entertained by the strangest of things, and at the right place and the right time, "Greenberg" was my kind of joint.

I think that Ben Stiller deserves recognition for his work in this film. Greenberg is his best character in years; thus "Greenberg" is also his best FILM in years. Stiller portrays an intentionally unlikable silent type; an emotional bottle rocket ready to burst in flames. Greenberg may be the self-destructive type, but getting to know his heavily flawed character is a risk worth taking. Come to think of it, every character is kind of flawed. Maybe that's why I liked the film as I did. I also seem to have no resistance whatsoever for Greta Gerwig; the charming and beautiful love interest of Stiller's character. Gerwig's performance isn't as unique as Stiller's, but it's memorable on its own right. I hope to see more of Gerwig in the future. The third and final major star of the film is Rhys Ifans as Ivan, Greenberg's only true friend (you know, outside of the world of romance). Ifans is a guy who I've admired for quite some time. He's the charming type; despite his wide variety of roles when it comes to getting into character. His performance in "Greenberg" is fairly likable. It may not come off as his best work, although what the hell: he was entertaining to watch, just like the other two leads. And a film NEEDS good leads. Baumbach is talented when it comes to picking and choosing, I guess. He proved that long ago.

Let me tell you right now that "Greenberg" is a very depressing film. It has its moments of humor; but the humor is never "laugh-out-loud" funny. It's the kind of funny that we know is clever, but it's never something we want to laugh at. While "Greenberg" has these moments, it's mostly about the pain of being a man. Greenberg's character is socially deficient, and therefore emotionally troubled. There are scenes in which he gets annoyed and has a sort of loud outburst. It is in these particular scenes that we come to realize just who he is as a person, and you know what: I identified with Greenberg. I wanted to and I did it. Not all will find this easy to do, but I've been through a lot of what Greenberg has. The pain of being a man is something we all question at one point, but Greenberg's fragile existence is one nearly devoid of life or spirit. He's not a hapless person; he's just not very joyous. I would like to hear his thoughts and his stories; on a person level. I wouldn't have shoved him off. In fact, Greenberg might just be the kind of friend that I've wanted to meet for years. When I came to this realization, I also came to like "Greenberg" a little more. While watching it, you can also see the style of Baumbach embedded. His choice of cinematography is good, and the soundtrack to this film is also as quirky as the characters. I do not think that it's a film about style. It's more of a character study; and you definitely need to look at it a couple times to get it. While I did enjoy it a whole lot, not everyone will. Yes, I would recommend "Greenberg" for the most part. It's a pretty well-made movie if you think about it. Perhaps not the most memorable, but it has some artistic merit. Most of it is found in the tender, honest emotion that I encountered. In 2010, a year devoid of this particular emotion, "Greenberg" might as well be quite refreshing. I can only hope that more will share my mostly positive feelings.

If "Greenberg" has flaws, then they're not all that obvious. It's a well-written film, it's well-acted, and it's quirky. So why isn't it a masterpiece? I guess what takes it off the map as an incredible movie is its inferiority to "The Squid and the Whale". That film is a masterpiece with at least some more appeal. It's just as hard to watch as "Greenberg" may be, but that is the Baumbach charm that I personally admire. I say see "Greenberg" since there's plenty of stuff to look at. It cannot be called a fun movie; because what's a "fun" movie. It's entertaining since I found it to be fairly interesting, but it's not one for everyone. I know people who don't like depressing movies. This is the kind of movie that the filmic Antichrist seemingly appealed just for their despair. I won't recommend it to these people. Maybe I won't recommend it to anyone. I just don't see what the point would be. I liked it. It's an often times compelling film. It's just not very appealing, and as I've learned, we've all got to be careful with recommendations. A lot of directors make films for themselves; and this is that kind of film. Noah Baumbach doesn't care if you find his character far-fetched and unlikable; he likes him, and that's what matters. We're supposed to care, and most of us will. That's what is effective about "Greenberg". That is why it works. If anything lingers with me, it's that Greta Gerwig is charming as hell. I'm never going to forget that, and I'm nearly demanding to see her again; perhaps not with Stiller at her side, but I am content as long as she is there, doing what she does best: deliver a solid performance. Her charm and this film's nature don't exactly go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, but what can you do, right? Not everything can accumulate to instant likability.

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January 17, 2011
Another great review.
January 18, 2011
Thanks, man.
 
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More Greenberg (2010 movie) reviews
review by . August 03, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   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 …
review by . March 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Go Green!
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 …
Quick Tip by . August 02, 2010
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.
review by . April 06, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
Quick Tip by . April 08, 2010
A funny but painful movie, not your typical up beat Stiller flick.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Wiki

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 ...
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Details

Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Comedy
DVD Release Date: July 13, 2010
Runtime: 107 minutes
Studio: Focus Features
First to Review

"Go Green!"
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