Monday, May 17, 2010

Greenberg (2010)

About two weeks ago, Greenberg finally came out to my area, playing at the Chelsea Theater (which, if you're ever in Chapel Hill, I strongly recommend if you enjoy the arthouse scene). When I made my list of my 10 most anticipated films, I included this one on my list, mainly because I was very moved by Noah Baumbach's previous films, The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. Not only that, I figured it would be nice to see Ben Stiller return to the indie scene, and turn in the kind of low-key performance he gave in The Royal Tenenbaums again. So once it finally arrived, I was eager to see it.
Greenberg tells the story of Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a New Yorker who flies out to Los Angeles to watch over his brother's house while he's on vacation in Vietnam. In true Baumbachian fashion, Roger is an unlikable, self-absorbed cad who would prefer the world would just run his way. He has a habit of writing letters of complaint to just about any institution he comes across, and even when he meets his old friends in LA, he barely tries to make a connection, and refuses to acknowledge that he is to blame for blowing their band's chance back in the day. In fact, the only person he seems to be able to somewhat connect to is his brother's assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig), but even that is strained by his arrogance.
Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg
Now, of course Roger is exactly the kind of character one should expect to find in a Baumbach film. And, when not working with Wes Anderson (as he did on the joyously superior Fantastic Mr. Fox last year), Baumbach does his best when he examines the lives of self-obsessed suburban neurotics. Greenberg is another fine effort from the man, but it has one serious problem: Roger's character is often too unlikable. As a result, the film often feels cold and heartless, as if it's trying to make sure the audience can't get involved.
The marvelous Greta Gerwig
Luckily, the film finds it's heart in Gerwig's Florence. She's a ray of sunshine, a complicated girl with a sunny disposition who falls for Roger, even though she knows the risk of being in a relationship with someone like him. Gerwig, all radiance and cheery beauty, is a true find, and hopefully an indie star in the making. The fact that she completely steals (and saves) the film from Stiller is a feat worth celebrating. She's the warmth that saves Greenberg from its own cold bitterness.

No comments: