GREENBERG (director/writer: Noah Baumbach; screenwriters: based on a story by Mr. Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh; cinematographer: Harris Savides; editor: Tim Streeto; music: James Murphy; cast: Ben Stiller (Roger Greenberg), Greta Gerwig (Florence Marr), Rhys Ifans (Ivan Schrank), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Beth), Brie Larson (Sara), Juno Temple (Muriel), Chris Messina (Phillip Greenberg), Susan Traylor (Carol Greenberg), Merritt Wever(Gina); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ms. Leigh/Scott Rudin; Focus Features; 2010)
“Droll humored and observant modern-day relationship psychological comedy/drama.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”/”Margot at the Wedding”/”Kicking and Screaming”) directs with great skill this droll humored and observant modern-day relationship psychological comedy/drama that’s based on a story by the director and Jennifer Jason Leigh (who has a small part in the film). It’s a keen character study about two lost souls though competent in their work who are nevertheless floundering around in their social relationships. These ‘hurt people hurt each other,’ as the featured mismatched couple who are attracted to each other try to overcome their low self-esteem and character deficiencies to form a meaningful relationship despite the many obstacles that stand in their way–which includes a large age gap and apathy.
The downbeat cranky Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) was just released from a NYC mental hospital after a nervous breakdown. The whiny 41-year-old bachelor, a former member of a promising rock band that broke up when he was 25 because of his insecurities that sabotaged a record deal, is now a loner and works as a carpenter–which was not his life-dream. Roger visits Hollywood Hills for the next six weeks to house-sit for his affluent brother Phillip (Chris Messina), who is going on a vacation to Vietnam with his wife and two children. Roger’s main responsibility is taking care of the family dog, Mahler, and building a doghouse. To help Roger, who doesn’t drive, Phillip engages his able but artless 26-year-old attractive personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig, the darling of mumblecore). She’s just as aimless as Roger. Florence has a number of casual sexual relationships that leave her with an empty feeling, and she sings sometimes at a small club as she halfheartedly is pursuing a singing career. Roger, who was raised in LA, now returns and wants “to do nothing” but write angry complaining letters to such places as the airline, Starbucks, the mayor of NYC and to an LA newspaper editor, and to reunite with former band member Ivan (Rhys Ifans)–now working in computers and experiencing a hurtful separation in his ten year marriage. When Roger tries to hook up with an ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), she rebuffs him in a polite way.
The emotionally fragile Roger, who battles a lifetime of compromises and not understanding how the world works, feels rejected by the world and lives by the motto that “life is not worth living for people.” Roger’s withdrawal from the world is hardly a retreat into Zen bliss, but more or less a bitter retreat to try and hold onto his sanity. The unhappy Roger realizes to win over this soul mate, he must now grow up and lose his irresponsible passive-aggressive boyish act; while Florence must decide if this sadsack guy who is just as screwed-up as she is, is someone stable enough to begin a relationship that matters. There’s a pivotal scene that helps Roger think more clearly, where his party-girl niece throws a wild going away cocaine party in his brother’s house and he gets high. Afterwards he realizes that he must act his age since he can’t connect with these youngsters and can’t still keep living in the past in a state of arrested development as an eternal youth.
This pic though not perfect nevertheless beautifully works on many levels as a poignant intelligent drama of peeling away the many layers that prevents one from finding happiness and becoming more self-conscious. Its power though understated hits full-blast when you start thinking about it on your way home from the theater. One of the better relationship pics, in a genre that rarely gets right such delicate matters as falling in love in the literate way it’s done here.
REVIEWED ON 4/24/2010 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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