Friday, March 26, 2010

Honk If You Like Greenberg

Adam of Club Silencio with a post as aimless as Roger Greenberg, and as soured as as he would be by the L.A. Starbucks in which I write this.

"Are you going to let me in?" A response to L.A. traffic that becomes an oft-repeated anthem for the lovelorn and aimless, and the perfect intro to Noah Baumbach's latest, Greenberg.

Florence (Greta Gerwig) runs errands with some direction as a personal assistant, but is stuck with the same small errands of life offered to Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller); a by-choice drifter and house guest who's freed from the shackles of his self-induced stint in an asylum. He's taken to building dog houses and writing angry posts on Pakistan and commercialized coffee in aims of doing absolutely nothing, admirably. Roger and Florence come together with that same anthem - "Are you going to let me in?" - as love and connection springs from their occasional psychosis, awkwardness, indifference, and general dread of that very same love and connection.

Greenberg seems often of a familiar mold. A downtrodden and dismal male character falls for a forlorn woman who's still bafflingly out of his league; she's persistently "just gotten out of a long relationship," while his relationships consist of certifiable anxiety and outlashings of lust that are appropriately confused with verbal abuse. The film even finds a similar (albeit more sour) finale to Alexander Payne's Sideways; a means for our sadsack male's direction without significant signposts. The difference here is that Baumbach's indifference is so astutely fixated and his characters so brittle and weary that love isn't necessarily the destination we want for these people. A goal, a hint of whimsy, the glimmers of passion they've resigned themselves from; any change is a good change. It's a caustic piece steeped in its detailed dialogue and a strong sense of place. It's almost Baumbach's trademark at this point: to throw himself into human flaws and frailties, and hope to find charm in what remains. It's offputting, funny and filled with novelistic precision, even while the film's arc is small enough to seem straightforward.

An auto shop's streetside windbag becomes a startlingly adept image of Greenberg's own flailing. It tosses about amidst the traffic, human-like arms outstretched in outrage or confusion: basically Roger's full time job whilst unemployed. Roger can't drive and he can't swim, but boy can he complain about both with remarkable skill. He's like someone from Baumbach's last film, Margot at the Wedding, with an unknowing ability to wound because he's wounded. "Hurt people hurt people," so says another of the film's key anthems, spoken by the harmlessly wounded Florence. Gerwig's goofy, nervously sexy self is a charm here, complimenting Stiller's cold but compelling Roger in ways that make the union the believable detour for these characters. In Baumbach's world misery not only loves company, it needs it to thrive and provide more fodder for the misery. Thankfully, this time the company's feelings are mutual.


Kurtis O said...

I've seen nothing but good ink about this film. I'm not nuts for Baumbach, but I really want to see it.

Matt T said...

Not too bad. I didn't really care for the story or writing. Stiller's performance was fine, but his character was just awful. I thought Gerwig was great though.


adam, you're back!!!!

I didn't have interest in this at first (which is odd because i like Baumbach's stuff) but after all these breathless reviews, I must see.

BrianZ said...

I don't like Greenberg...I love it!

G_ShaQ said...

not bad, but not exceptionally great. It had moments of angst that I could relate to, but as a whole the story was not enough to move me in any particular way. I think the movie was aiming for more than the story could deliver. Stiller was fine and has a license to another dramatic role, but he still shines most when he turns on the sarcasm. Gerwig was a good discovery for me; Rhys Ifans was solid. I'd give it a B-.

Adam said...

I have to say the film didn't strike me as profoundly his last films, but I think they're so much strength to the small moments and individual bits of dialogue. And Gerwig's such a unique actress. Half the time I think the's right on, sometimes painfully awkward, sometimes I think she looks stoned... but I'm always charmed.

It was also probably the perfect movie to see having just arrived in LA, stuck in the same traffic and the same sunny malaise as these characters. It was also random to walk to a theatre to see a movie in the city where it's set, and be surrounded by Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear. That doesn't happen in Omaha, Nebraska, people. No matter what people tell you.