“Greenberg” is all about finding your place in life, even if it’s not the place you hoped for. Directed by Noah Baumbach, who has been on somewhat of a tear with writing the screen adaptation for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and directing “Margot at the Wedding” and “The Squid and the Whale”, he’s found his place among indie film lovers and this will surely squeeze in right along side the others.
Why you’ll like it:
Indie film, in the vein of “Squid and the Whale”, some good character acting.
Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a man just turning 41 and still not settled into anything remotely as excited as the band he was in 15 years ago that was nearly signed until he backed out, a decision that still rears his head when he sees old band-mates. Greenberg is back in L.A. from New York City to house-sit for his brother, who is living a glorious business life starting hotels in such remote places as Vietnam. While back on his old stomping ground he gets a little familiar with his brother’s assistant, Florence, played by Greta Gerwig. Two people that are socially destined for each other in all their awkward honesty.
The first act of the film is so indie film-like, because there is a lot of dead air where you’re simply observing the small idiosyncrasies of someone’s life, and it lasts for at least 20 minutes. For me, sometimes it works well and other times I get a little antsy, this was the latter. However, once Roger and Florence start to notice each other it’s pretty fantastic. They constantly bumble around each other and Roger is a classic narcissistic jerk, always projecting onto others the very things he’s dealing with and making every situational moment centered around himself. Stiller executes it with style and abrasiveness.
The other hidden gem here is Rhys Ifans, he is stellar as the friend who silently suffers at the abusive hand of his “best” friend. He’s perfect and in my eyes an extremely underused pro’s pro in Hollywood. The interaction you get between him and Roger Greenberg is compelling and familiar, because who among us haven’t seen a great guy/girl mistreated by a self-centered ass? There’s some great comedic bits that spring out of all the social gaffes between Roger and his go-to counterparts.
Why you won’t like it:
Social awkwardness galore. If you don’t like the indie circuit, you won’t like this.
One of my favorite thing about quirky independent comedy dramas is that the music is always edgy, but Baumbach really utilized silence to build an awkwardness around his characters and then towards the end of the second act started bringing in a lot of rhythms to drive home particular points and I must say it was effective.
I really liked “Greenberg”, probably not something I’ll watch again all the way through but would love to catch bits and pieces of on HBO from time to time. I’m sure Ben Stiller wanted to get out of the mainstream romantic comedies and step out a little, and while the character isn’t miles from his normal goofy comedic stencil, it’s much closer to an actual human being and someone relateable, someone that you can look at and desire to learn from. The lesson here was simple, stop trying to live the life that’s escaped you and just live the best one you can have. That’s something I can get with.
3 out of 5 stars.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Independent (indie)
Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Release Date: April 1, 2010