"Greenberg" Movie Review

4/07/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review


By our guest blogger, Kicia Sears

Movie taglines are typically cheesy, but the tagline for Greenberg, “He’s got a lot on his mind,” is an understatement at best, not to mention stupid. Taglines are designed to entice people to see the movie, but the vagueness and leaden simplicity of this tagline is almost insulting. The gamut of emotions and implications within the film is complex. Noah Baumbach, writer/director of "The Squid and the Whale" and co-writer of Wes Anderson films "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," wrestles with the difficulty of self-awareness and reform amidst failure. Saying that Roger Greenberg simply has a lot of “stuff going on” makes the movie sound boring.

"Greenberg" opens by introducing us to its female protagonist, Florence (Greta Gerwig), a girl in her late 20s, who is the personal assistant to Phillip Greenberg and his wife (Chris Messina and Susan Taylor). The Greenbergs depart for vacation in Vietnam and Phillip’s brother, Roger (Ben Stiller), comes to house- and dog-sit for the six weeks they’re away. Roger is a bitter New Yorker in his 40s who has recently been released from a mental hospital. Upon arrival, he is told that he can rely on Florence for anything he needs, and after discovering the neighbors in his brother’s pool, he calls her for help. The two begin to see each other socially. They seem to enjoy each other’s company but also can’t help but push each other away. The whole movie feels like a tug-of-war, with Roger and Florence alternately hating/missing each other. Finally, after a confrontation with a group of twentysomethings, Roger makes a true effort to stop being so self-destructive and to appreciate people for who they are.

"Zoolander" lovers AND haters may be apprehensive about watching Stiller in a serious role, but he does very well here. It’s nice to see him in a deeper role than Greg Focker. He shows the audience that he can be funny without affecting a bad accent or having his testicles crushed. He exchanges his typical over-the-top style for a more subtle performance that still retains his keen understanding of comic timing. The strangeness of his character is portrayed by Stiller with such grace that it instantly endears him to the audience, despite the script’s attempts to shove his quirks in our faces.

The characters are all interesting in that they’re all kind of, well, losers. For example, there’s Florence. Sure, she’s pretty screwed up and bizarre, but she isn’t extraordinary in any way. She easily could have been made into a typical Zooey Deschanel character that is common in indie romantic comedies--odd, brilliant, deep and charming. Instead, Florence is kind of dumb, an average singer, and can be pretty annoying at times. It feels real, and the fact that you root for her anyway demands respect for the dexterity of the film.

By far the high point in the movie is when Roger’s niece brings over a bunch of her friends who are in their early 20s. Roger spends the first portion of the party trying to reign in the madness that ensues when alcohol and drugs combine with 20 years of pampered callousness. Finally, after opening up a bit and trying to relate to the kids unsuccessfully, he confronts them about their shallow cruelty and the fact that don’t have the capacity for true empathy. It is both satisfying and humbling to listen to his tirade. Twentysomethings may realize that Roger certainly has a point, and it might trigger some much-needed introspection for all of the tech-generation brats out there.

While watching "Greenberg," one begins to notice a very “Wes Anderson” feel to the comedy. Perhaps this is Baumbach learning from Anderson, or it could be what he brought to the set of "Life Aquatic." The movie is well-written and manages to be likable despite moments of hipster pretension. Stressful social situations, awkward sexual encounters, and heated arguments make a good but quite depressing movie about aging and confronting the terrifying question, “What if it DOESN’T work out?” This film highlights the fact that life isn’t fair, youth is fleeting, and hindsight sometimes reveals that you really were an ass. If I were to write a tagline for the film, I’d quote Roger Greenberg: "Life is wasted on people."

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