Greenberg (2010, dir. Noah Baumbach)
Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Mark Duplass, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Hey, you know what isn’t an interesting topic for contemporary cinema right now? Angst ridden white people who live comfortably and don’t have to worry about any necessities. Especially when they aren’t in some sort of hyper-realistic universe (i.e. James Bond, comic book movies). When the films are meant to be set in reality and feature characters whose biggest problems are that their band when they were in their twenties didn’t work out, yet are still rich through other endeavors, then I don’t really have much empathy towards them. This is yet another hugely pretentious piece of cinema from the grating Noam Baumbach. If you’re interested in navel gazing claptrap you’ve found your film.
Florence (Gerwig) is the personal assistant to the Greenberg family, a wealthy couple with two kids and a dog. The Greenbergs are off to Vietnam to open one of the husband’s hotels and they let Florence know his brother, Roger will be visiting for a few weeks while they are gone. Roger had a nervous breakdown and is coming the mansion to relax and work a doghouse. Roger and Florence meet, and she inexplicably ends up liking him. She learns Roger was involved with a semi-successful band in the 80s and they would have made it big if Roger hadn’t freaked out and left. Roger runs into some of his old bandmates (Ifans, Duplass) and while one of them has gotten over it, the other still holds a grudge.
The character of Greenberg is not necessarily a bad concept. I think everyone enjoys a good curmudgeon every once and awhile. But the curmudgeonly attributes of Roger Greenberg come across as cliche and totally dishonest. It doesn’t help that Noah Baumbach is doing what he did in Margo at the Wedding, one of the least watchable films I’ve ever had the privilege of falling asleep during. This is film straining desperately to be so clever and erudite, yet maintain that angst white middle class tone I hate. While some people have the same things to say about Wes Anderson’s films, I argue that Anderson works his damnedest to make his work feel intentionally separate from reality, in effect making contemporary fairy tales. Baumbach thinks he’s making a movie grounded in realism, and I guess for self-absorbed upper middle class people it probably is. I just have zero sympathy who have these problems.
There are few moments of good in it. I think Greta Gerwig is a great actress, more so in more mumblecore type movies than this one. She has a very natural ease in front of the camera and is one of the few people in the movie who doesn’t feel like she is acting. There’s a sub plot involving her ex-boyfriend that I found to be good to see in a film, its something that never really happens even in movies, and if it does there seems to be some moral cultural obligation to make it a big deal. Here Gerwig simply does this thing and everyone moves on with their lives, the way in reality it would probably be. Many of the supporting players are quite good, with the exception of Jennifer Jason Leigh as Roger’s ex from back in the band days. Leigh is also the co-screenwriter, producer, and the wife of Noah Baumbach. She’s just not very good in this role. If you have the option to watch this film, I can’t really say its one of those worth one view ones. It really isn’t, it doesn’t say anything of importance, it doesn’t work to achieve any interesting artistic aesthetic, it is just simply nothing.