Greenberg (New Movie Review)
Greenberg (Noah Baumbach, 2010) – Noah Baumbach made his reputation as an intelligent and pessimistic purveyor of white upper-middle-class anxiety and dysfunction in the enduringly popular The Squid and the Whale. His pessimism only darkened and spread in his follow-up, Margot at the Wedding, a film this author found too bitter, too lacking in empathy, to love. His new film with Ben Stiller, Greenberg, finds Baumbach reversing that trend, and we have a film that, for all its biting observations of how people can be cruel to ดูหนังใหม่
those closest to them, is hopeful about the prospects of a better future. This new, hopeful Noah Baumbach retains all the intelligence and feel for character that set him apart, yet makes his filmmaking more accessible and, frankly, more fun to watch.
Stiller stars as the titular Roger Greenberg, a New Yorker staying at his brother’s house in LA for a few weeks. His brother is a successful entrepreneur, and he’s taking his two adorable kids and wife with him to Vietnam, as a sort of business-related vacation. Roger, a failure in business and romance, just got out of a psychiatric hospital after some sort of mental breakdown. While back in his hometown of LA, his plan is to build a doghouse for the family pet Mahler, reconnect with his former flame (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach’s wife and collaborator), and very little else. Naturally, life gets in the way of his plans for minimal interaction. Soon, he meets his brother’s personal assistant, Florence, played by rising star Greta Gerwig, and things get complicated. Despite having different sets of pop culture references from which to draw their ironic observations, the two awkwardly pursue their mutual attraction in a series of fits and starts, as Greenberg fights his own impulses all the way.
Greenberg is smart, perhaps smarter than your average bear, yet socially inept. At this point in his life, at the age of 40, he’s not even trying anymore. He tells himself he is trying to do nothing, though this sounds more like a clever line he uses to ease his anxieties about how his life has thus far turned out. Without allowing to admit it to himself, Greenberg secretly still yearns for human connection (as evidenced not only by his start-and-stop courtship of the young Florence, but also by his ill-fated attempt to get back with his now-married-with-children ex). He does himself no favors, however, by his constant judgment of others. His nasty remarks and opinions are clearly defense mechanisms he uses to deflect any inward examination. Greenberg uses language as a weapon, to insulate himself from the outside world which prevents him from forming any lasting relationships. Baumbach shapes the dialogue in a way that we see Greenberg as he would like to present himself, but we also see the cracks in that facade.
I cannot say enough about the fearless and talented Greta Gerwig. Rarely does a young actor come across as genuine and natural as she does and yet deliver such finely attuned and specific performances. Gerwig cut her teeth in a series of incredibly personal, extremely low-budget films that helped make “mumblecore” a movement that sold out arthouses in cities across the US. After starring in, among others, Hannah Takes the Stairs, directed by Joe Swanberg, and Baghead, directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, Gerwig let her multiple talents show in Nights and Weekends, a film about a dying relationship which she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in with Swanberg. I highly recommend Nights and Weekends. I’m not sure if Gerwig was looking necessarily for a “big break” per se, but certainly Greenberg is it, and she nails the role. Her character, after being hurt badly in the past, is attracted to the things that set Greenberg apart from the more socially-adjusted men she has grown to distrust. Gerwig plays Florence as embarrassingly yet endearingly honest, as she navigates the awkward moments of young adulthood. She sees right through Roger to his vulnerable core, which is part of the attraction she feels, and doesn’t understand why he continues to resist what should be so obviously a good thing. (Last seen in Humpday, mumblecore alum Mark Duplass is also in this film, in a small yet memorable performance.)
Since he’s alienated most everyone else in his life, Roger spends a lot of his time with his loyal best friend Ivan, nicely played by Rhys Ifans. Ivan was in a band with Roger back when they were twenty-somethings, and he’s going through a separation with his wife. He stopped drinking, so he’s been spending his nights watching crappy cable TV movies in bed. While Roger is borderline abusive even with him, the two have a long history and Ivan is sensitive to Roger’s fragile state. They each satisfy the other’s need for friendship and understanding, though there is much left unsaid between the two. One gets the sense that their friendship could blow up if the wrong words were spoken by either. The band they were in all those years ago was offered a major label record contract, but Roger refused on grounds that its terms were exploitative. But, it was a contract, and it was their window of opportunity to make themselves successful doing what they loved. Once that window closed, it was gone forever, a fate that informs not only Roger’s resentment and buried self-loathing, but also Ivan’s resignation to a mundane existence.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a party springs up in the house Roger is staying in. His sister-in-law’s college-aged sister invites a bunch of kids over for a reckless good time. For all his phobias, Roger shows a side of the rocker he once was, and actually goes with the flow. This scene is a powerhouse, as finally we see Roger, fueled by cocaine and other drugs, break out of his miserable minutiae-obsessed shell and just be himself, damn the consequences. Life is all around him and even he cannot deny himself a good time. Of course, he is still a total narcissist, but at least he’s interacting and engaging people honestly. His loss of inhibitions leads to a denouement that feels both unexpected and entirely realistic.
There is a high degree of stinging truth in Greenberg. While it is not strictly autobiographical, Baumbach has said that he knows some Roger Greenbergs and that there is some Roger Greenberg in him. Roger is such a fully-realized and strong character, I certainly identified with him at least a little. While I am not 40 yet, I can see myself headed in that direction, where your many defeats due to circumstances that are partially of your making and partially bad luck lead you to give up on humanity and retreat to a running monologue of vindictiveness and overthought elaborate arguments for how you’ve been wronged by everyone around you. “If only I was given the chance, I know I can succeed, but nobody’s given me that chance.” The bitterness and anti-social behavior is a result of this incessant inner monologue. This movie might just catch on, and if it does, it is because it is a knowing study of a very human condition.