Review by: Christopher Haskell
July 16, 2010
“Greenberg” is not “Meet The Parents.” “Greenberg” is not “Night At The Museum.” “Greenberg” is not “Tropic Thunder,” “Zoolander,” “Dodgeball,” “Heavyweights,” or “Starsky & Hutch.” “Greenberg” is not the Ben Stiller you know and love. “Greenberg” is real. “Greenberg” is self-righteous, self-loathing, and pretentious. “Greenberg” is probably not someone you would personally like to be around for more than ten minutes. “Greenberg” is a film about living breathing emotional people. Most people will probably not like “Greenberg.” “Greenberg” is probably alright with that.
In director Noah Baumbach’s latest endeavor, Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a 40-year-old completely set in his ways. Greenberg travels from New York to California to house sit for his brother, Philip. During his stay, he meets 25-year-old Florence (Greta Gerwig), Philip’s personal assistant. In a haphazard attempt at befriending Florence, Greenberg fails miserably… continuously… on more than one occasion.
The dialogue in “Greenberg” is genius. Greenberg’s demeanor and uniquely candid view on the world makes for hilarious lines throughout the entire film. Greenberg’s naivety towards situations like the pool overflowing and not being able to drive allows for comedic moments as well.
The reason most viewers will disregard this film for lack of escapism. “Greenberg” will not add up to what viewers normally enjoy. Most films are meant to carry you away for 90 to 120 minutes. “Greenberg” is dry and life-like. You feel as though you have met Greenberg and you did not like him therefore you do not like this film. I can relate with Greenberg, therefore, I was invested in the film. “Greenberg” is unique. “Greenberg” is not “Avatar.” If you want escapism, James Cameron’s your man.
Ben Stiller is Greenberg. Stiller’s performance was completely righteous, a part that Stiller truly became. Greenberg is unlike anything Stiller has played in previous performances. “Greenberg” is to Stiller what “Punch Drunk Love” was for Adam Sandler, what “The Number 23” was for Jim Carrey, and what “Stranger Than Fiction” was for Will Ferrell. Stiller proves that passed his prime, he still has a place in Hollywood. Ben Stiller was meant to play dramatic roles.
Greta Gerwig took awkwardness to another level in her performance. Investment in her character is natural, as you truly feel for her, watching her floundering in her nothingness and allowing herself to be condescended by Greenberg (“what does that story even mean!?”). Rhys Ifans plays Greenberg’s longtime friend, Ivan, who has given up his past as a rock-star (The Magic Marker band that Greenberg eventually kyboshed) to take care of his son Victor. Though Ifans’ character remains stoic most of the film, you cannot help but enjoy Ifans in this role. Chris Messina “phones” in his role and does a superb performance as Roger Greenberg’s brother. The few times he speaks in the film are some of the funniest moments (“Yes the pool can f***ing overflow!”).
Much like Noah Baumbach’s previous films, “Greenberg” was not a commercial success. Yet, “Greenberg” succeeds to win me over, full of the same realness that Baumbach brings repeatedly. The reality is: you either like Baumbach’s style or not. If you do not, his films will appear as lackluster plots with dry dialogue and no “it” factor. However, if you enjoy Baumbach’s style, you appreciate the difference these films have against commercially accepted films, you appreciate the attention to real-life these films bring, and ultimately, you see a film that you could potentially see play out in real life. And succeeding at imitating life is a far more impressive than conjuring up make-believe (though both are impressive in their own way). “Greenberg” is real-life. If you do not enjoy this film, that is fine, because honestly, Greenberg probably would not enjoy this film either… but Greenberg does not really enjoy anything.
March 26, 2010
Jennifer Jason Leigh (story)
(for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language)