Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Brie Larson, Juno Temple, Jennifer Jason Leigh
RunTime: 1 hr 47 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: R21 (Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/greenberg
Opening Day: 15 April 2010
Academy Award-nominated screenwriter/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) brings us the funny, touching and poignant story of two
souls adrift in Los Angeles, trying to forge a connection.
Roger Greenberg [Ben Stiller], single, fortyish and at a crossroads in his life, finds himself in Los Angeles, house-sitting for six weeks for his more successful/married-with-children brother. In search of a place to restart his life, Greenberg tries to reconnect with old friends including his former bandmate Ivan [Rhys Ifans]. But old friends aren’t necessarily still best friends, and Greenberg soon finds himself spending more and more time with his brother’s personal assistant Florence [Greta Gerwig], an aspiring singer and also something of a lost soul. Despite his best attempts not to be drawn in, Greenberg and Florence manage to forge a connection, and Greenberg realizes he may at last have found a reason to be happy.
There were moments in Greenberg when this reviewer would have loved to leap out of her seat and scream ‘Awkward!’, but decided against it sensibly, unlike what one imagines Roger Greenberg, the titular star of this film, might have done. Ben Stiller is Roger Greenberg, the neurotic, brooding and moody 40-year-old who seems to be caught in a mid-life crisis of sorts. Overtly sensitive to himself but yet painfully oblivious to others’ feelings, the man never fails to upset. Back in Los Angeles to stay at his brother’s house while the family takes off on a holiday, Roger attempts to reconnect with his friends and ex-girlfriend from his high school days. In the midst of this, he meets Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig), his brother’s 25-year-old personal assistant and the pair strike up an unlikely relationship, which at best seems chummy and at worst, barely believable to this reviewer.
Stiller appears to be doing a Jim Carrey in his role here, eschewing the slapstick humour he does best for a more serious character, reminding one of Carrey’s star turn in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The similarities don’t stop here though, as Stiller manages to deliver an equally convincing portrayal of the very unlikeable Roger. After digging up an old wound with a friend and aggravating it (although his initial intents were otherwise), Roger even gets on his best buddy’s and Florence’s nerves. Stiller’s livid face when best friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) surprises him on his birthday is priceless, yet grips the audience with an excruciating discomfort that heightens as a series of similar episodes unfolds. One does not end up rooting for Roger like what usually happens to the hero or heroine of a film, but it is his countless social faux pas (and more often than not, the non-realization of his mistakes) that one can relate to committing at some point in one’s life. Stiller’s Roger is raw, real and a reminder of those embarrassing moments we can never bear to admit to having. His stab at wry wittiness is far from spectacular however and a running joke throughout the film falls flat after the first couple of laughs. Besides, despite Stiller’s noteworthy performance here, one still half expects him to spring up at any time with some side-splitting gag.
Stiller and Gerwig (who in a way, strangely resembles Kate Winslet, Carrey’s female lead in Eternal Sunshine, minus her screen presence) never seem to hit the right notes with each other though. They awkwardly stumble through a relationship which leaves one scratching one’s head about how the laws of attraction actually apply here. It is puzzling in the first place, that Florence does not seem repulsed but on the other hand, concerned for the tactless Roger. This shaky premise that director Noah Baumbach sets up is worsened by the chilly chemistry Stiller and Gerwig share onscreen. In fact, any sparks flying between the two are more likely to be caused by friction than romance.
The film trundles along at a slow pace for the first fifteen minutes or so and hardly manages to impress the audience after this sluggish start with its quintessentially done to death tale of boy meets girl, amalgamated with another clichéd story of a tortured middle-aged man. Greenberg’s saving grace, if any, lie in Stiller’s hands and the occasional smart quip from the supporting cast. Ifans, in particular, does provide respite with his droll comments of Roger being like 'Gatsby watching his party from far away' when he coops himself up in the house despite having invited friends over. Wit aside, Greenberg can really just be as unappealing as its namesake.
(Serious acting proven, back to the Museum you go, Ben Stiller)
Review by Priscilla Gan