PLOT: Freshly released from a mental hospital, almost 40-year-old Roger Greenberg (Stiller) refuses to accept his age, and attempts to live a carefree existence. While staying at his brother’s place, he falls for the housekeeper (Gerwig), a young woman who is "out of college for as long as she was in."
WHO'S IT FOR?: Baumbach fans should probably take their Schwinns to the local art house and check this one out, as Greenberg's stunning organic nature requires comparison to his earlier, smudged-scope films like Margot At The Wedding and The Squid and the Whale.
EXPECTATIONS: I had enjoyed the film's trailer from a couple of viewings, but was still uncertain as to how much Baumbach's latest would entertain or move me. For Stiller's performance, there was more curiosity than immediate hostility.
Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg: His situation is a reverse-events gender-flip of Geena Davis’ repressed character in Cassevetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. Greenberg was considered crazy for his childish inhibitions, and was sent to a mental hospital. Stiller holds our attention with this unusual manchild, but, when embodying wistful youth, sometimes turns the character into too much of a kid (when he should be acting 20, he acts 12). Baumbach has crafted an intriguing character with Greenberg, a fresh addition to a list of on-screen human beings who live in the past because they refuse to confront the present. This is not Stiller reverting back to the pea-brained innocence of Derek Zoolander, but an admirable, more credible spot in between. Score: 7
Greta Gerwig as Florence: Just as we might know a Greenberg, we all know a Greta – she’s a regular-looking girl who straddles the line of maturity, but not by choice. Gerwig puts a natural sweetness into the vulnerable character, and makes the rather tumultuous relationship between her and Greenberg even more warming. Score: 7
Rhys Ifans as Ivan Schank: The easy-going Ivan is a reflection of the maturity that Greenberg would exude were he from an alternate universe. At heart, he is Bizarro Roger, but Ivan carries on his own appearance and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it's far too similar to how we've seen Ifans before to really notice. Score: 5
TALKING: This is the way people talk on planet Earth. The praise can be split between the actors’ delivery and the script they’re working with, as all of the exchanges in this dialogue-driven film are fantastically organic. Conversations large and small in importance are blessed with a natural rhythm and frugal selection of words. The repeated phrase “hurt people hurt people” is a bit childish for such an advanced script, but it certainly works coming out of Greenberg’s thought process. Score: 8
SIGHTS: Shot in LA, the film tends to make a note of photographing Greenberg amongst a specifically age-divided crowd (as with the birthday party scene, midway through the film.) Maintaining the indie-film style, Greenberg takes its time with some of its shots, and allows the viewer to take whatever (if anything) out of uncut sequences of driving, walking, etc. Score: 6
SOUNDS: James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem composes a handful of instrumental tracks to help the film segway between scenes. When his music is not being used, the soundtrack dips into classic rock waters that include Steve Miller Band and Duran Duran (my apologies if that categorizing made anyone feel old). Worth noting is that Greenberg uses awkward silences as distinctively as the interludes or any piece of music. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The moment where Greenberg literally confronts true youth. He tells them he’d rather die before he meets them in a job interview, then tries to convince them that Duran Duran is a better band to do coke to, especially over Korn. It is the funniest and most poignant scene in the entire film.
ENDING: In all ways of looking at it, the ending is startingly anticlimactic, when what seems like a typical drunk voicemail is given more significance after its original recording.
QUESTIONS: What was that creature in the pool? It looked like the Montauk Monster.
REWATCHABILITY: The humor may not be as abundant for some to have them coming back multiple times, but the characters in this story are certainly worth another visit after some time has passed.
It took a story of youthfulness to mature Baumbach. In the past his characters and their stories have been too dysfunctional (Squid and the Whale) or piercing (Margot at the Wedding) to resemble the reality that all of his films strive for. Greenberg has things more under control, with a new batch of more likeable characters floating around a contained message of adulthood’s required maturity. Stiller can sometimes be frustrating with his overly bratty character, but nonetheless works in creating a compelling persona that should speak to those who may not laugh with the film as much as others.
Baumbach is one of a few modern filmmakers that truly understands just how awkward life can be. Finally, he shows that his awkwardness can be somewhat refreshing, not depressing.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10