(2010)3.5Jason BuchananDirector Noah Baumbach collaborates with his wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, to deliver a nuanced character study about a mentally unstable New York transplant taking a break from the rat race in Greenberg, a low-key comedy drama driven by skillful direction, a playfully introspective screenplay, and strong performances all around.
Freshly released from a stint in a psychiatric hospital, East Coast carpenter Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is reassessing his priorities when he arrives in L.A. to housesit for his brother, Phillip (Chris Messina), who's taking his family to Vietnam on a business trip. When Roger meets Florence (Greta Gerwig), his brother's pretty young assistant, both sense a connection that brings them closer together over the following few weeks. But neither are really in the right frame of mind to start anything serious; Florence has just broken off a long-term relationship, and while he's not building a doghouse for his brother's German Shepherd or penning angry tirades to corporate America, Roger is doing his best to reconnect with his former bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and his old flame Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), both of whom -- for reasons initially unknown -- seem less than overjoyed to see him.
Having built his reputation on being a funnyman, Stiller once again proves he's capable of much more than just making us laugh. He bears an impressive amount of dramatic weight in a role that calls for an actor with a wide -- and somewhat deep -- emotional range. There's no question Roger Greenberg has a sense of humor, though more often than not it gets buried beneath the ever-thickening layers of irresponsibility, anger, and egocentricity that tend to overpower his more endearing traits -- such as the ability to remember small details that are quickly forgotten by others. In many ways, Greenberg is the antithesis of the self-important L.A. stereotype; while he may be prone to making selfish decisions, his mental illness prevents him from recognizing that in doing so he may be adversely affecting the lives of those he cares about most -- and it's here that the supporting players (Ifans and Leigh in particular) really help to give us a better sense of Roger's true character. Their reactions to Roger not only speak volumes about their past experiences with him, but also offer a telling indication of just where his relationship with Florence may be heading. Try as he might to change, Roger can't seem to stop repeating his past mistakes, and isn't quick to accept criticism. If he could only catch the social cues others are giving him, perhaps he'd be better equipped to finally take control of his own life.
In terms of plot, it doesn't get much simpler than Greenberg. But by keeping the details sparse, Baumbach and Leigh free themselves up to focus on the key characters, each of whom are richly drawn and emotionally complex. Despite their differences in age and the fact they grew up on opposite ends of the country, Roger and Florence are bonded together by the fact that both of their lives are currently in a state of flux, and neither are quite aware of where they're headed -- either personally or professionally. Their frequent attempts to connect are as awkward as they are sincere, providing us with acute insight into their true natures, and offering Baumbach the opportunity to indulge his impressive talents as a director. The subtle reactions of Roger's friends to his often tiresome rants speak as much to the character's condition as the actual words in the script, ensuring that all of the elements work together to create a cogent character study that uses disarming honesty to explore such issues as the ever-widening generation gap and our capacity for forgiveness. At one point in the film, Ivan laments that he and Roger "never talk about anything good." It's a moment of incisive truth, and a perfect example of how easily we tend to get distracted from real life. The most intimate conversations are the ones that form the strongest bonds. When even our closest relationships take a turn for the superficial, it's good to know we've got filmmakers like Baumbach to remind us how important it is to to have people in our lives who genuinely care enough to breach the topics we sometimes struggle to avoid.
A fortysomething New Yorker in the throes of a midlife crisis falls for his brother's assistant while house-sitting for his sibling in Los Angeles. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is single and jobless. He's at a crucial crossroads in life when his successful family-man brother summons him to Los Angeles to housesit for six weeks. Recognizing the opportunity to turn over a new leaf in a new city, Greenberg reaches out to his former bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and discovers that some old wounds aren't so quick to heal. When Greenberg meets his brother's pretty assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), a kindred spirit who longs to become a singer, he vows not to become too attached. But the more time Greenberg spends with Florence the more he begins to wonder whether he might have finally made a connection worth keeping. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brie Larson co-star in a climacteric comedy drama from Oscar-nominated writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding).