Movie Review: Greenberg (2010)

When it comes to the work of Noah Baumbach I’ve seen The Squid and the Whale (but can hardly remember what it was about), I had no interest in Margot at the Wedding and I’ve been meaning to see Kicking and Screaming. Despite my lack of familiarity with Baumbach’s work, the trailer for Greenberg had me intrigued. It presented a disgruntled character that seemed to have some ideas worth listening to and a view of the world not many shared, or perhaps many share but are too politically correct to vocalize. As it turns out Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is just a self-centered grouch. Admittedly he seems to have his reasons (although they are never realized), but his ability to rationally deal with people is so frustrating, watching this movie is an exercise in patience that never pays off.

In what amounts to Ben Stiller’s first real dramatic performance I don’t lay my complaints at his feet as he was just fine playing the disagreeable lead character, who’s just left a mental hospital and is house-sitting for his younger brother in Los Angeles. The acting in the film, for the most part, is the film’s one true highlight.

Stiller’s performance, while increasingly grating, seems to come across as intended. Rhys Ifans, playing Ivan, a friend from Stiller’s past, is the calming influence on a film too high strung and pissed off to begin with and Greta Gerwig is the standout performance as Florence, Greenberg’s brother’s personal assistant. However, Florence’s aloof behavior is just as annoying as Greenberg’s consistent complaining, a fact that turned this film into a stand still bore.

The trouble with most of these characters, Ivan not included, is I would never want to hang out with any of them and I found no connection with, or interest in, them whatsoever. Even worse, I had no feelings toward their plight. Greenberg obviously has emotional issues. He doesn’t know how to relate to other human beings. He’s rude, inconsiderate and overly awkward and inside of all that, it isn’t until late in the film we see any kind of sign there is actually a real person inside and once we do, it’s still not enough to prove he’s a person worth knowing.

Greenberg comes off as a film about privileged white people and their problems and why we should care they are troubled. Too bad I don’t care. I don’t care about the inadequacies in their out-of-arms-reach relationships. I don’t care these people don’t know how to communicate with one another. I don’t care that Greenberg takes issue with the seat spacing on airplanes and the coffee at Starbucks. And it’s not because I’m jaded, but because Baumbach gives me no reason to care.

Baumbach and his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh co-wrote the screenplay and perhaps this is the world they live in. Perhaps this is their evaluation of the people they come into contact with on a daily basis. If so, I’m sorry, it appears to be quite depressing.

Greenberg begins as a fascination. Not much is revealed about the lead character and throughout the film a few details leak out, but for the most part he remains an idiosyncratic mystery. He’s not likable and his constant complaining becomes tiresome. When asked what I thought of the film I told someone it was like going out to dinner with a bunch of boring people, but every so often someone said something funny making the night tolerable, but not enjoyable. If this film were a restaurant I wouldn’t return for a second meal and would never recommend you sit down at the table.


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