REVIEW: Greenberg

17 01 2011

Noah Baumbach set the bar sky-high with his incredibly personal and deeply moving 2005 movie “The Squid and the Whale,” a very funny but very serious look at divorce from the perspective of the affected children.  Ever since then, he’s struggled to raise that bar.  It’s hard to live up to expectations when they are so big, and because comparison is inevitable, every Baumbach movie to follow his Oscar-nominated effort will have to live in its shadow.

Greenberg” isn’t terrible, but it’s a confused mixture of comedy and drama that strikes strange and unpleasant chords one too many times.  The movie emulates the mayhem of the mid-life crisis as 40-year-old Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) pathetically wanders through life without aim.  His brother tries to get him on track by letting Roger housesit while his family relocates to Vietnam to open a hotel, and the escapades that follow boil down to the misanthtropic Roger running in circles around his own neuroses.

He tries to make peace with his past, particularly an old love (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who co-wrote the movie).  He tries experimenting with a relationship again, and it’s thankfully with someone off-color enough to tolerate his antics (Greta Gerwig in a charming breakout role).  He stupidly indulges in his own self-pity and self-centeredness.

Roger Greenberg is an unpredictable and volatile character that Ben Stiller plays with a fair amount of pathos and humor.  Yet there’s little development of the character and an even smaller arc, which could be the point.  Even with Stiller trying his best, he can’t keep “Greenberg” from being a barely likable movie about unlikable people.  Try again, Noah Baumbach.  C+

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One response

19 01 2011
Encore Entertainment

I’m a bit saddened at the response this one has gotten. What Baumbach seems to be doing, to me, is creating GREENBERG (the film) as a sort of projection of Greenberg (the character), which is possibly why it comes off as so slight. Still, the acting is quite good all round – I’m especially impressed by Rhys Ifans here.

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