Greenberg (2010)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Plot: A New Yorker moves to Los Angeles in order to figure out his life while he housesits for his brother, and he soon sparks with his brother's assistant.

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin).
Runtime: 107min
Rating: R21 for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language.

Greenberg is not a film for everyone. Especially if you are a Ben Stiller fan. Nominated for the Golden Bear (Berlin), Greenberg stars Stiller in his most and probably only serious role to date. Apparently, there is a likelihood that uninformed fans of the popular Hollywood comedian would jump into a theater screening Greenberg and find themselves utterly disappointed that the film is not quite funny, and if it is, it is funny in a serious kind of way. A note of interest, this could be the only time when a Stiller film does not command a full attendance at a local screen near you.
Stiller is Roger Greenberg, a man in his late thirties with lots of time at his disposal and no obligations to work commitments whatsoever. His brother is on a holiday with his own family at Vietnam and requires him to take care of his house for a couple of weeks. It is known that Roger has some mental problems but they are not serious enough to be a liability. The other lead character is Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig). She is Roger’s brother’s assistant who is tasked to “help out with the chores and grocery shopping”. In an idealistic scenario, they meet and fall in love with each other and presumably live happily ever after.
But Noah Baumbach (the Oscar-nominated writer-director of The Squid and the Whale (2005)) takes a longer route to build up that ideal. Greenberg is a quiet film about an introverted man with psychological insecurities trying to lead a life of worth after setbacks in the past caused him to lose track of his life and perhaps even his identity. Both lead characters like each other, and in a moment of spontaneous sexual urge, Roger performs cunnilingus on Florence but stops short of intercourse.
Even then, there is a sense of awkwardness in their unusual relationship because Roger is unable to express love towards Florence. As a result, Florence takes it as face value that he just needs a temporary companion and does not see a long-term future for both of them. Stiller’s performance is decent, but it is Gerwig’s that is far more praiseworthy. She is a new talent to take note. It is to their (and Baumbach’s) credit that the “romantic tension” between the leads is excellently sustained throughout, right up to the last scene.
The problem with Greenberg is that it feels too laidback, and may I say, even lethargic to a certain extent. There are moments when the film occasionally straddles over the line of boredom. Despite the good performances, the leads are quite difficult to identify with. Hence, we are unable to share a common bond with them. They might be fulfilled emotionally at the end, but we are not. And even if we are, is there any significance? Greenberg sets itself as a passive character study of Roger Greenberg. It’s worth taking a look, but only if nothing else interests you at that very moment.


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