Directed by: Noah Baumbach
I’d like to think there was a point to me reviewing the dour Ben Stiller directed daydream adventure ride ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, and that was because a DVD copy of ‘Greenberg’ was sat on my desk. I think I was going to review ‘Greenberg’ before Mitty, but things never work out the way you planned. I suppose you could also see this as me doing a few reviews on the theme of Ben Stiller: Serious Actor.
Yes, this was another acquisition from Poundland. I enjoyed ‘Greenberg’ enough when I saw it year or so back to actually buy it. ‘Greenberg’ was one of my favourite films of 2010, alongside ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. The film paints LA as a smoggy mess full of people functioning on SSRI’s and Anti D’s.
You have the kooky Manic Pixie Dream Girl figure, albeit a sadly tortured one, in the form of Greta Gerwig, who in her performance as Florence shows glimpses of her natural acting ability that would break her free from mumblecore flicks and eventually go on to find herself as a mainstream indie darling in ‘Frances Ha’. Then there’s Ben, sweet misunderstood Ben who plays Roger. Roger is a neurotic forty something carpenter who is recovering from a nervous breakdown. He house sits his brother’s pad. Florence is the dog sitter, who is basically a personal assistant for Roger’s brother’s family. The two messed up adults fall in awkward love. Neither is particularly suited for each other, and at times they seem to despise one another, but something keeps them together despite the confusing emotions they are feeling. Maybe it’s the drugs they are taking.
You can view Roger Greenberg as a right boring bastard. He’s a difficult protagonist to get behind. But Stiller revels in the role, and carries the film because despite his shortcomings Roger tries. Even though he’s not functioning properly, he is at least trying to live, but he keeps shooting himself in the foot. He says the wrong things, makes bad decisions. He’s human sure, but barely functioning on these drugs which seem to be holding him back. See, I think what Stiller does well is capture a man going through the motions on chemicals that keep him balanced but dull his senses. I should say at this point that I’m not a massive fan of anti-depressants.
Noah Baumbach wonderfully captures jaded middle age. Frustrated rock stars whose garage bands never made it, men who are now stuck with a ball and chain and a brat who wish they could be single and free again, and Roger, the wandering never man, who’s never really done anything with his life. If anything the film’s jaded men fit better among the jaded twenty something’s who live empty deluded lives. It’s why Roger can have a relationship with Florence. They share a similar self-obsessed world view.
Florence dabbles, she has a poorly paid meaningless job which suits her non-committal ways, sings sweet songs in dive bar open mic nights and hangs around in art galleries picking up guys. Gerwig is able to subdue her natural happy-go-lucky impulses and play Florence as a fallible fatale. Florence often says she’s too young, i.e. not old enough to pick up on Roger’s tastes in music or pop culture references; but she is afraid to grow up, to accept responsibility. It’s the one thing she shares most with Roger; both are adults in training, despite their significant age difference.
Roger’s frustration is released through passive aggression, he writes letters of complaint about minor inconveniences; there are a few eruptions, rants, arguments; but it seems like Roger is so beat up from battling with himself that there’s nothing left to give, no passion, no fire. ‘Greenberg’ is a film about defeated people who don’t feel alive. It’s depressing, but somehow adequately captures what it is to be depressed.