GREENBERG: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Noah Baumbach, 2010)

“I’m really trying to do nothing for a while“, Robert Greenberg (Ben Stiller) says repeatedly throughout this low key independent film that matches his nothing scene by scene. Stiller’s acerbic misanthropic New Yorker title character is house-sitting for his brother (Chris Medina) in LA and starts and stops, and starts and stops again, an awkward romance with Greta Gerwig as his brother’s personal assistant.

That’s basically it plot wise. It’s a series of scenes in which we cringe anticipating how exactly Stiller will socially sabotage every given situation. And that really doesn’t make for entertaining movie going. It seemed so promising at first. The possibilities of tapping into Stiller’s talent for comic anger without cheap laughs, a la what PUNCH DRUNK LOVE did for Adam Sandler, could make for a iconic assessment, but the discomfort that supporting cast members Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh (who is credited for the story – a baffling credit since there barely is one) convey is contagious.

Greenberg, the character, is simply not interesting. He was once a musician that botched a record deal for his band that he’s never owned up to, and his so called friends barely tolerate him. He writes complaint letters to every commercial institution that he comes across from American Airlines to Starbucks. And now he can’t figure out if he wants to pursue a relationship with a 26 year old woman who is also floating through life with no direction. You’d think that she’d see that this guy is just an asshole and move on, but maybe there’s some actual realism there.

Realism may be the film’s problem. I mean, Greenberg all too well reminds me of former friends who I stopped hanging out with because they were way too negative and boring. Many of Stiller’s jerk wad exchanges just brought to mind the many times I disgustedly hung up the phone with such folk. When I realized halfway through that this guy was never going to change and there was no point to this slice of his dull life I want to hang up with the movie.

Underwritten and un-affecting; it’s a charmless movie about a charmless man. It has echoes of James L. Brook’s AS GOOD AS IT GETS which similarly dealt with a socially inept curmudgeon begrudgingly accepting love. That film though had more witty life to it – GREENBERG just sits there. Oh, I should say that Baumbach tries to combat the underlining nothing with a desperate party sequence with snarky kids, drugs, and loud music in the last third.

I like the work of Noah Baumbach a lot more than say Armond White, but here this particular spotlight on self absorption really needed more going for it than just these bare bones slightly spruced up with James Murphy’s (LCD Soundsystem) soundtrack (which isn’t bad actually).

When asked how he’s doing early on, Stiller quips: “Fair to middling, Leonard Maltin would give me 2 and 1/2 stars.” If I used a star rating I’d be way less generous.

More later…

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