Greenberg


Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by:Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Mark Duplass
Released: July 15, 2010
Grade: B+

Caveat emptor.  It’s a Latin saying that I remember having drummed into me during high school.  Most of you will know the interpretation – “let the buyer beware”.  It seems an appropriate way to start my review of Greenberg.  Yes, the film stars Ben Stiller but no, this is not a comedy.  Will Ferrell did it with Stranger Than Fiction and Adam Sandler did it with Punch Drunk Love.  Mr Stiller has stepped out of his comfort zone and is trying a drama.

His character is Roger Greenberg.  He’s a guy from New York who describes his job as being “a carpenter for money”.  I don’t think business is going too well.  He’s accepted an offer from his brother to come out to Los Angeles and housesit while the family goes on vacation.  Roger has promised to build them a nice dog house for their loyal pet.

It’s probably an opportune time to mention that Roger is a very neurotic person.  He’s just spent time in a mental hospital and struggles to interact with other people.  It’s as if writer-director Noah Baumbach had written the character with Woody Allen in mind.  Roger isn’t quite as witty as Woody but he can certainly find the negative in any positive.

Roger’s life is about to derail once again when he falls for his brother’s personal assistant, Florence (Gerwig).  She’s a wanna-be singer with extremely low self esteem.  They’re an odd match but they do find an awkward comfort in each other’s presence (if that makes sense).  Some of the scenes they share together will leave you both laughing and cringing.

As a backdrop to the main story, Roger’s trip to Los Angeles has forced him to catch up with old friends he has long avoided.  They include his former best friend, Ivan (Ifans), and his one-time girlfriend, Beth (Leigh).

I’ve called it a drama but there are elements in Greenberg which step into black comedy territory (my favourite genre).  Roger and Florence are an interesting duo and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.  How would their semi-relationship pan out?  I was intrigued.  On the flip side, I wasn’t too concerned with the other players.  Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character felt unnecessary.

Worthy of a mention is the performance from Ben Stiller.  When you see his character and the way he acts, you’ll find it hard to picture him as the comedian from films such as Night At The Museum, Tropic Thunder and Zoolander.  He’s glum, he’s depressive, he’s moody.  Some viewers will be turned off by this non-Stiller role but I think he’s great.  He also gets a few quotable lines thanks to writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale).

Greenberg is a strange film…. but I think that’s why I liked it.