Greenberg: Watching Hurt People Hurt Other People

29 Mar

Greenberg is a Noah Baumbach offbeat comedy/drama about how hurt people, hurt their friends and family. The comedy is sprinkled throughout a great deal of sadness, which is the center of this film.

Much like Mr. Baumbach’s previous films, Greenberg is about the challenges of basically being an asshole.  In The Squid and the Whale the asshole was a once great author who took out his lack of continued success upon his family. In Greenberg the asshole is a semi-stable, failed musician who was recently released from a mental institution and now works as a carpenter, played by Ben Stiller.

It’s a slow evolving story that begins with a tight lens on a wealthy family’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwing), who is basically the everything to Philip Greenberg (Chris Messina).  When Phillip decides to take his family, including small children, to Vietnam, where he intends to open a new hotel, his brother Roger comes to house sit.

Roger is neurotic on a world-class level.  “I’m trying to do nothing right now.” He tells everyone, not that they’ve asked. He spends his time building a dog house for his brother, trying to catch up with old friends and writing letters of complaint to major corporations about incredibly minor problems.  He’s basically a 40 year-old  living at his brothers mansion, trying to reconnect with a group of people that never really missed him.

Stiller plays Roger with a kind of raw instability that seems appropriate and plays well with the female lead/love interest Florence. Florence is equally offbeat spending her off hours singing in half empty dive bars and being generally artsy. Greta Gerwing isn’t a well known actress and this movie probably isn’t going to change that but it’s not for lack of her ability. Both Stiller and Gerwing just kind of let the oddness of their characters carry the story, which is easily the best part about the film.

Although, the brief and confused romance does yield one of the most awkward scenes of physical romance perhaps ever intentionally caught on tape. It’s a kind of matter-of-fact sex scene that is a perfect display of Stiller and Gerwing’s ability to make something so incredibly strange and uncomfortable completely honest and natural. That doesn’t make it less weird, just the event more believable.

In the ends it’s not about their weirdness or Greenberg’s ass-holishness, as much as it’s about being yourself. Florence, at 25, is free in her self-realized youth, while Greenberg’s, 40, is contained in a self-made prison of unfulfilled aspirations.  Youth meets someone clinging to youth.

Greenberg definitely has it’s funny moments, but it’s certainly not a movie you would go see if you wanted to laugh. It’s really a very honest look at how sad people effect those around them, and as a result it’s a fairly sad film. Although, critics are loving the film as among Baumbach’s best, it’s slow pace and generally wondering plot made it less enjoyable. It’s really a film maker’s movie that may not be for the average or even slightly above average movie goer.

Directed by Noah Baumach from the script he wrote with Jennifer Jason Leigh. Starring: Ben Stiller (Roger Greenberg), Greta Gerwig (Florence Marr), Rhys Ifans (Ivan Schrank), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Beth), Brie Larson (Sara), Juno Temple (Muriel) and Chris Messina (Phillip Greenberg).  Focus Features. Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes.

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