Greenberg (2010)

Greenberg (2010)
  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Noah Baumbach
  • Cast: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans


We like Florence: she’s considerate, sweet, pretty, and terrific with kids and dogs. She’s twenty-five, personal assistant to an L.A. family that’s off on vacation. Her boss’s brother comes in from New York City, fresh from a stay at an asylum, to take care of the house. He’s Roger, a forty-year-old carpenter, gone from L.A. for fifteen years. He arrives, doesn’t drive, and needs Florence’s help, especially with the family’s dog. He’s also connecting with former band-mates – two men and one woman with whom he has a history. He over-analyzes, has a short fuse, and doesn’t laugh at himself easily. As he navigates past and present, he’s his own saboteur. And what of Florence? is Roger one more responsibility for her or something else?


  • Thanks to a remarkable performance by Ben Stiller, “Greenberg” avoids being the aggressively unentertaining exercise in self-absorbed neuroses that was Noah Baumbach’s last film, “Margot at the Wedding.” Both films ask us to spend a lot of time with characters who are too annoying to ever fully win our sympathy, but a key difference between “Greenberg” and “Margot” is that Ben Stiller has an inherently likable quality about him that makes you want to stick with his character long after you might give up on someone else.

    Stiller plays a troubled man recently out of an institution who stays at his brother’s place in L.A. while his brother’s family is on vacation. He strikes up a complicated romance with the young girl who’s employed by the family as a sort-of jack-of-all-trades (Greta Gerwig), and much of the film is devoted to scenes of these two awkwardly trying to connect, getting angry with one another, and then giving it another try.

    I was about to give up on the film at one point, when it seemed that Baumbach was again going to give us nothing but a sustained one-note lesson in navel gazing, but then Stiller has a morbidly fascinating meltdown at a party full of much younger kids and I was hooked back into the narrative.

    I’m not sure what conclusions “Greenberg” comes to (if it comes to any), but a conclusion I came to is that Stiller has the talent to be much more than a goofball jokester.

  • Greenberg is not a film for everyone. Especially if you are a Ben Stiller fan. Nominated for the Golden Bear (Berlin), Greenberg stars Stiller in his most and probably only serious role to date. Apparently, there is a likelihood that uninformed fans of the popular Hollywood comedian would jump into a theater screening Greenberg and find themselves utterly disappointed that the film is not quite funny, and if it is, it is funny in a serious kind of way. A note of interest, this could be the only time when a Stiller film does not command a full attendance at a local screen near you.
    Stiller is Roger Greenberg, a man in his late thirties with lots of time at his disposal and no obligations to work commitments whatsoever. His brother is on a holiday with his own family at Vietnam and requires him to take care of his house for a couple of weeks. It is known that Roger has some mental problems but they are not serious enough to be a liability. The other lead character is Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig). She is Roger’s brother’s assistant who is tasked to “help out with the chores and grocery shopping”. In an idealistic scenario, they meet and fall in love with each other and presumably live happily ever after.
    But Noah Baumbach (the Oscar-nominated writer-director of The Squid and the Whale (2005)) takes a longer route to build up that ideal. Greenberg is a quiet film about an introverted man with psychological insecurities trying to lead a life of worth after setbacks in the past caused him to lose track of his life and perhaps even his identity. Both lead characters like each other, and in a moment of spontaneous sexual urge, Roger performs cunnilingus on Florence but stops short of intercourse.
    Even then, there is a sense of awkwardness in their unusual relationship because Roger is unable to express love towards Florence. As a result, Florence takes it as face value that he just needs a temporary companion and does not see a long-term future for both of them. Stiller’s performance is decent, but it is Gerwig’s that is far more praiseworthy. She is a new talent to take note. It is to their (and Baumbach’s) credit that the “romantic tension” between the leads is excellently sustained throughout, right up to the last scene.
    The problem with Greenberg is that it feels too laidback, and may I say, even lethargic to a certain extent. There are moments when the film occasionally straddles over the line of boredom. Despite the good performances, the leads are quite difficult to identify with. Hence, we are unable to share a common bond with them. They might be fulfilled emotionally at the end, but we are not. And even if we are, is there any significance? Greenberg sets itself as a passive character study of Roger Greenberg. It’s worth taking a look, but only if nothing else interests you at that very moment.
    GRADE: C+

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