Greenberg

13 Dec

Title: Greenberg
Year:
2010
Director:
Noah Baumbach
Writer:
Noah Baumbach, based on a story by himself and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Starring:
Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Merritt Wever, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Juno Temple, Mark Duplass
MPAA Rating:
R, some strong sexuality, drug use and language
Runtime:
107 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.4
Rotten Tomatoes:
75%

I had seen Greenberg back in March but for some reason apparently forgot to do the review for it. But anyways, I’ve seen it on blu-ray a bunch of times since and I can still say that it’s one seriously good film. I say this because I’m inclined to love every single thing Noah Baumbach does and because this film introduced me to Greta Gerwig, who’ll most certainly be, alongside Jennifer Lawrence, my favorite newcomer of 2010. Not to mention the score was done by James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem.

Seriously though, this one helluva film. A film that boasts an incredible performance by Ben Stiller in the leading role, a role which was originally intended for a guy in his early thirties and rewritten to fit Mr. Stiller. And what a smart decision that was, because this is a role Mr. Stiller fully owns, giving the best performance of his career to date.

This is also a film that takes a very cool look at Los Angeles. Mr. Baumbach’s script makes the city another character in this film, and it had been a while since a film had featured Los Angeles and its traits so well. And he was aided by the cinematography of Harris Savides, the man behind other city-friendly films such as American Gangster, Milk and Zodiac.

This one is right up there with Mr. Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, another funny and yet a bit sad film of his. That’s how he does things, he always finds humor in places we wouldn’t think had it, and makes everything feel very real, adding his smart wit to every situation and making them that much better. His ability to get us to connect with people who could have easily been painted as unlikable is exquisite.

And much like in The Squid and the Whale, the bittersweet perspective he explores here is achieved so amazingly by a great ensemble of actors. Not only is Mr. Stiller amazing, but there’s also Ms. Gerwig, who as I said above will go down as one my favorite new stars of 2010. She is infinitely charming, and her performance is right up there with Mr. Stiller’s, effortlessly conveying a girl who’s certain about a number of things, and confused about many more to perfection. And there are also very good performances by Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh as well as an appearance by the lovely Brie Larson, who apparently is also awesome outside United States of Tara.

Seriously though, Mr. Stiller gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, as a man who won’t necessarily be better off by the end of the movie, but that will certainly have evolved by the time it’s all said and done. And that’s the magic about Greenberg, that the outlook Mr. Baumbach provides never carries any sort of condescension to it, he just takes a very subtle look at the life of this man, and we start noticing that nothing good is coming out of it. This sort of ambiguity is handled extraordinarily well by Mr. Baumbach, who reels us in slowly but surely until we are totally engaged to this character, and when we get to that point we’ll realize just how much of a knockout this film is.

Because, honestly, this is a bitter life we’re observing. And yes, there will be laughter, but there will come a point in which we’ve come to care so much about Roger Greenberg that the laughs won’t be that easy, and they’ll come with pain for this guy. This is a man who has apparently come to terms with the fact that world hasn’t been especially nice to him, and has just decided to roll with the punches instead of really making that much of an effort to change the circumstances.

And Mr. Baumbach creates this character very well. He is, after all, a person very much like someone we all most likely know, the guy who’s mad at the world, who’s mad at himself and takes it out on everyone that approaches him and who seems not to care at all about himself or others. This is a character that’s not easy at all to write, it could have easily been caricatured by many, and yet Mr. Baumbach finds a way to paint him in a most human light, and he is aided to great measures by Mr. Stiller who seriously embodies this man.

Roger Greenberg, then, returns to Los Angeles, the city he once fled from after walking away from the band he was in right in the brink of getting to reach stardom, leaving his bandmates with nothing. But yes, he comes back, to house-sit for his brother who’s on vacation and make sure the dog doesn’t die. There is a number his brother has left for him, the one for Florence, the family’s assistant, who, the note explains, will pretty much know where everything is and how everything works.

Florence is the character the adorable Ms. Gerwig palys. And she is another very human character, another character who by the ink of a more conventional writer would have played by the rules stereotypical movies have set out for a girl like her, but Mr. Baumbach creates in her another unique character. She’s a confused girl, she plans everything to perfection for one family and yet seems to have no concrete plan for herself. She has to be one of my favorite characters all this year in the movies, and the fact that she’s played by Ms. Gerwig only adds to my liking of her.

As I said, there is not much happiness in Greenberg. There are many fun moments, but it’s not a happy movie at its core, not by a longshot. We see how Greenberg interacts with people, not only with Florence who he eventually ends up having sex with and developing a very iffy sort of relationship with, but also with Ivan, one of his former bandmates he screwed things up for, and with Beth, a girl he was once in love with and who now has an established family life.

Greenberg is just a very cool film. One I sincerely loved, not only because of the reasons I stated above which were that it was done by Mr. Baumbach and had Mr. Stiller giving his best performance, nor because it introduced me to such a lovely actress in Ms. Gerwig. But because it approaches this man in the best of ways, he gets us to empathize with a character many movies would get us to dislike thoroughly, he gets us to understand and care for this man in the best of ways, and the result is one seriously terrific film.

Grade: A

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