by RICHARD WINTERS
Greenberg is the new Ben Stiller film directed by Noah Baumbach and written by the husband and wife team of Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It centers on a middle-aged man by the name of Roger Greenberg (Stiller). Greenberg, who goes by “Greenberg” even with his friends, is recovering from a nervous breakdown and has come back to Los Angeles from New York City to house-sit for his brother while the brother and his family are on a long vacation. He meets a young woman by the name of Florence and the two start a quirky romance.
Overall I liked this film, mainly because of the way it portrays middle-age. The Greenberg character breaks the mold of how men of that age have been shown in past films. He isn’t married, doesn’t have children, and isn’t wearing a suit and tie while climbing the corporate ladder. He treats age forty-one like it is nothing but a number and as good a time as any to start over and take a different life path.
I found it refreshing that Hollywood is suddenly embracing aging, and that being in your 40s can still be “hip.” It is also nice in the case of Stiller as well as Jason Leigh, who plays Greenberg’s former girlfriend, to have actors who are the same age as the characters that they play. It was not too long ago, especially in the action genre, where male stars in their 40s and 50s were still trying to pull off that they were in their 20s and 30s, even though the age difference was obvious to the viewer. Maybe this film marks a shift away from that, and that would be a good thing.
I also liked Stiller’s performance here. He has always been a likable guy on screen, but he plays the straight-man role a little too often. His acting range never seemed to be tested. His appearance here changes that. He is convincing as a surly and disagreeable person. I felt that he really understood his character and made him seem real to the viewer.
I also enjoyed newcomer Greta Gerwig as Florence. She gives a very solid and appealing performance. However, I did find the character to be a bit annoying at certain points. To me she seemed to take the term “easy” to new extremes. In one scene she meets a guy at a party and then goes back to his place for sex. In this day and age of stalkers, date-rape, AIDS, and psychos, this seemed stupid and it is hard to sympathize with a character that acts so foolishly. Even those with liberated views on sex would still consider this irresponsible. There is another scene where Greenberg comes to her apartment after having met her only the day before. They have a very brief conversation and then he almost immediately pulls down her panties and nuzzles his face between her legs, all while she lies there looking helpless and pathetic. If the filmmakers wished to show someone with a low self-esteem then there are more subtle and creative ways to do it. I also felt this sex scene went on too long and caused an uncomfortable silence amongst the other patrons in the theater.
The romance angle didn’t work for me and came off as forced. I like the idea of a quirky relationship forming between two dysfunctional characters, but there still needs to be a reason for it and this film didn’t supply it. There was a big age difference between the characters. Half the time Greenberg treated Florence in a cold and hostile way and was certainly never romantic toward her. I could see maybe a friendship forming, but for her to fall in love with him there needed to be something more. These two definitely had issues and needs. The final scene between them also gets too drawn out.
All things considered I still came away liking this movie. I enjoyed how the film creates a certain randomness to the characters and situations, as that gives the movie an authentic real life quality. For the most part the character study works. The film is mainly a drama, but there are some moments of comedy that are funny. It is tailor made for the independent movie crowd, who should not be disappointed.
Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)
For another naturalistic character study, try Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky.