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Greenberg (2010) ***

April 4, 2010

Written by: Jennifer Jason Leigh (story) and Noah Baumbach

Produced by: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Scott Rudin

Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Rated R for some strong sexuality, drug use and language

107 min.

U.S. Release Date: March 26, 2010 (limited)

We all know Ben Stiller from hilarious comedies like “Zoolander”, “Meet the Parents” and “Tropic Thunder”, but what we haven’t seen is Stiller’s more serious side.  Many comedic actors have attempted the transition to drama in the past, with some striking out and others finding great success.  Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” serves as Stiller’s departure from comedy in this offbeat drama with a little bit of humor sprinkled in.  As Roger Greenberg, Stiller plays a 40-year old who moves from New York to Los Angeles after a mid-life breakdown, when he comes to the realization that his life has not panned out the way he had hoped.  Does the serious role work for the comedy writer-actor-producer-director, or is he another one of the comedians who falls flat outside of their genre?

Well-to-do Phillip Greenberg (Chris Messina), his wife Carol (Susan Taylor) and their two kids are heading off on a vacation to Vietnam for six weeks.  They call upon Phillip’s brother Roger (Ben Stiller) from New York City to housesit and care for their dog during their trip.  Roger is a 40 year-old who is fresh out of a mental hospital due to a recent mid-life crisis.  He is packed with nuance and quirks that do not result in him getting along with people very well.  Roger is, by nature, not the most likable guy you’ve ever met.

Roger is perfectly content with staying at a distance from everyone he meets until Florence (Greta Gerwig), his brother’s personal assistant, comes into the picture.  Both Florence and Roger are incredibly awkward characters in their own right; Florence in a very endearing and earnest way, and Roger being of the annoying and jerky variety.  So when the two come together it is a train collision of inelegance that draws the viewer in to further examine this strange relationship.  On one of their first interactions, Florence and Roger’s first “date”, the events play out to be one of the more awkward encounters captured on screen that will definitely leave you shifting in your seat!

Roger’s six-week stay in L.A. provides him with the opportunity to spend some time in self-reflection, catching up with old friends, and managing his new relationships.  He has a lot of personal issues to work through and Florence acts as the catalyst to get the ball rolling on Roger turning his life around.  This film documents the heartwarming and sometimes bizarre events that Roger goes through directly out of the mental hospital en route to better times.

I love Baumbach’s realistic script in this film and how well it compliments the styles of Stiller and Gerwig.   Their dialogue seems so natural, and they work together to create a realistic progression of a “fling” relationship.  Ben Stiller’s genius-level comedic timing works very much in his favor to construct this complex character with many odd nuances and harshly sarcastic tendencies.

The visuals in “Greenberg” are fantastic.  The way Baumbach uses Los Angeles as a character in this film, both visually and one that effects the storyline, works with great effect.  Being from New York City, Greenberg doesn’t drive anywhere, and hasn’t for years.  So, during all of his walking around, L.A. is showcased in a way that actually adds to the story as opposed to simply serving as a setting.

Overall, Noah Baumbach’s most recent effort in “Greenberg” is a successful exercise in what he is trying to accomplish, a moment-in-time quirky indie-drama.  This film is certainly not for everyone, as it mostly exists to explore the characters it showcases, rather than bring a single story through a single arc.  The awkward styles of Greta Gerwig and Ben Stiller work together successfully to make this film far more believable and interesting than if Baumbach were to case Hollywood A-listers or upper echelon indie-regulars.  If you liked “Garden State” and “Hump Day”, then you’ll love Baumbach’s “Greenberg”.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sandy Marchetti permalink
    April 4, 2010 11:41 pm

    Yeah, I thought it was kind of like the Garden State for the middle-aged set. And I liked that, curiously.

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