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…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2005

What with the Oscar nominations being announced last week, the Golden Globes, and all them magazine lists I figured it was high time I get off my ass and update this blog and list :

Film Babble Blog’s Top Ten Movies Of 2005

01 PALINDROMES (Dir. Todd Solondz) Though ignored when first released and completely forgotten this awards season I believe this film will leave more of a mark on movie lover’s psyches in years to come than crap like CRASH. Although not a sequel to WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE Solondz sets this in the same world with Weiner family values, white trash ethics, and plenty of good ole character assassination fun!

02 MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (Dir. Luc Jacquet) Yes it’s a documentary that could play any night on PBS with little fanfare and it’s a simple premise and all. but what a film-matic treat any way you look at it! And yes I just simply love penguins. It’s about time they had a movie. Okay?!!?

03 CAPOTE (Dir. Bennett Miller) One of the few deserving Oscars this year went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his dead-on portrayal in this moving movie – respectful to the times and the crime yet unforgiving and brutal to the man in the spotlight.

04 THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Dir. Noah Baumbach) Divorce 80’s style with parents played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and their troubled offspring (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) – harsh but sharp with a great soundtrack (Loudon Wainwright III, Bert Jansch, and the plagiarized Pink Floyd).

05 NO DIRECTION HOME (Dir. Martin Scorsese) It was only given a small theatrical release in LA and NY but this long awaited Dylan at his prime powerhouse may be the finest rock doc ever. Period.

06 SARABAND (Dir. Igmar Bergman) Made for Swedish TV in 2003 this updating of SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (again, not a sequel) finds Johann (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullman) re-uniting after 30 years to look back over their tortured existence. Johann : “I’ve ransacked My past now that I have the answer sheet”. Heavy, man.

07 ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (Dir. Miranda July) Quirky but not cloying…and funny too.


HEAD ON (Dir. Fatih Akin)

10 ENRON (Dir. Alex Gibney) Another damn documentary but such a damn neccessary one.

More later…