Monday, May 17, 2010

Man on Film: Greenberg

It was not without a healthy amount of trepidation that I walked into Greenberg. While The Squid & The Whale was a solid outing, I'd hardly say I was in head over heels in love with the film. Margot at the Wedding was so fucking unbearable that I couldn't make it 20 minutes into the movie. Somehow I actually made it through Kicking and Screaming, but holy fuck do I wish I hadn't. And as a member of the faction of Wes Anderson fans (a fandom which has been waning for the past five-plus years) who still look at The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and sigh with disappointment, I hold Noah Baumbach largely responsible for its failure.

Does the fact that I was somewhat leery of what Greenberg had in store for me really need to be elucidated any further? I think the reticence has been justified.

What I got in Greenberg was a second solid outing from writer/director Noah Baumbach. In having seen three of his films entirely, part of the fourth, and another that he has co-written, it has become evident that there is going to be lacking in resonance on a personal level for me with his works. I guess that is to be expected, as there isn't much crossover between my middle-class, Midwestern upbringing and his privileged, Brooklyn childhood. It seems that he may very well have had a childhood like the one illustrated in The Squid & The Whale, and frankly it is one that most of us couldn't possibly have much in common with.

With Greenberg, I was able to find common ground with Baumbach's work where I'd previously been unable to--Ben Stiller's Roger Greenberg has willfully ignored conventional expectations for success, is largely a dick, and is easy to dislike, all things that could be said about me. That being said, it isn't always the most comfortable experience seeing characters that you share undesirable character traits with uncomfortably exposed on screen*.

*I had similar feelings after seeing Rachel Getting Married, as the self-absorption/-destructiveness of Anne Hathaway's character struck a little too close to home for comfort.

For the most part, this doesn't get in the way of the enjoyment of the film. While self-destructive, Roger is often scathingly funny. His letters of complaint to the varied businesses that he feels slighted by are funny. His sweet moments with Greta Gerwig's Florence Marr work well, as do the awkward ones.

Where the film does over-reach is in the presumption that Florence would somehow remain interested in Roger after his repeated abuse. She doesn't seem broken in the beginning, and his intermittent shoddy treatment of her should realistically drive her away. But it doesn't, which doesn't really feel believable.

The film does look good, as Baumbach's style actually works well in Los Angeles, and the pacing is actually pitch-perfect. While often veering into the realm of the uncomfortable, the film never drags. Stiller and Gerwig are great, and Rhys Ifans is serviceable. Generally speaking, I could do without Jennifer Jason Leigh, but she wasn't in the film enough to really bring it down in my book. In all, Greenberg was a nice little film, and it gives Stiller a chance to stretch his legs a bit.

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