Friday, March 26, 2010
Movie review: Greenberg
Noah Baumbach's latest is a quiet, introspective film that takes its time getting nowhere we want to go.
It's hard to know what to say about Noah Baumbach's latest film, Greenberg, that would cause you to want to see it. It's an aimless story (co-written by Baumbach and his talented actress wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh) about an aimless individual (Ben Stiller, in the title role of Roger Greenberg) that practically wallows in its aimlessness.
I guess if you happen to be a person who is somewhat (or a lot) less disturbed and socially inept than the main character in this movie, you could take it as escapism: "Dang, that guy's even worse off than I am. And he still gets the girl."
The girl in this instance being Florence (veteran indie actress Greta Gerwig), a housesitter for the yuppy SoCal family composed of Roger's brother Philip (Chris Messina) and his wife (Susan Traylor as Carol) and kids (played by real-life siblings Koby and Sydney Rouviere). Florence jumps through high-pressure hoops for her self-absorbed employers, taking care of everything they'd prefer not to, from grocery shopping to package pickup.
As they're preparing to leave on their high-pressure overseas vacation (which Florence has planned out to the letter), Philip and Carol let Florence know that Philip's brother will be visiting from New York while they're away. They've solicited his services to construct a dog house for beloved family hound Mahler -- but they've really invited him so he can settle his thoughts in relative peace following a stay in a mental hospital. Aside from the aforementioned social ineptness, Roger suffers (as do we, watching him) from OCD.
For anyone expecting to see Ben Stiller in comedic mode, let me put the kibosh on that notion posthaste. He plays Roger straight, and from my observation Roger straight has very little of the humorous about him -- unless you enjoy laughing at someone who's hypercritical, hypersensitive, emotionally troubled, and completely unsympathetic.
Roger's personality and behavioral traits make the loyalty of his friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans, in a wonderful and -- yes -- sympathetic performance) a marvel of herculean accomplishment. Ivan continues to stand by his friend even though he seems to derive very little in return; he's simply a good guy, unwilling to abandon Roger to his self-ordained social pariah fate.
If Ivan stands in for Hercules, then I suppose we must cast Florence in the mold of Xena, Warrior Princess, due to her oddly positive response to Roger's misdirected attempts at seduction. (In one of their early encounters, Roger unleashes one of the most inappropriate makeout moves ever. And it kind of works.)
Though Florence is (believably) put off at first by Roger's odd behavior, she persists in allowing him to court her, after his hot/cold, self-interested fashion. The link that binds them through the cold spells is Mahler, whose illness and recovery regimen they both take quite seriously.
Gerwig's portrayal is goofy (as usual), mostly as a result of her decision-making in regard to this blossoming relationship. Though here -- happily -- she is far more intelligible from a dialog standpoint than evidenced in her mumblecore oeuvre.
Need a 107-minute self-esteem booster? Check out Greenberg. You'll feel better about yourself. (No matter who you are.)
OR JUST CLOSE YOUR EYES?: "You have to see past the kitsch." - Roger to Florence, re. "It Never Rains in Southern California"
IS THIS AN ADULT?: "Is this a child?" - Roger, to kid answering his phone call
MEANT AS A COMPLIMENT: "You don't feel the bullshit pressure to be successful." - Florence, to Roger