Greenberg is just a little … off. You probably know someone like him: normal on the surface, able to carry on brief conversations with no hint of being a little … askew. But on closer examination, you begin to realize that when God handed out the Facebook pages, Roger Greenberg’s page was the beta version – raw and full of glitches.
Ben Stiller, best known for playing innocuous schlemiels in broad comedies, obviously took this role to enhance his acting chops. He does well with the part. Greenberg, although neurotic, is not a caricatured fussbudget, a la Felix Unger, nor is he De Niro’s taxi driver, threatening to snap at the slightest provocation. No, Greenberg is just a little off-kilter. He has no real friends and views the world as a hostile place, some of which might be cured by dashing off letters to the editor.
Greenberg, fresh from a stay in a mental hospital, is asked to housesit in L.A. while his brother and family take a vacation trip to Vietnam (yes, Vietnam). Into his world comes Florence (Greta Gerwig), the brother’s assistant and a woman with issues of her own. Florence is cute and friendly but goes through life with an invisible “kick me” sign on her back. Greenberg and the girl have one thing in common: a remarkable talent for sabotaging their own personal relationships.
Greenberg is a character study with no special effects, car chases, or explosions. Some critics have commented on the unlikability of Stiller’s character. To me, Greenberg is not that obnoxious, just mildly irritating and generally intriguing. When he sits down to pen one of his frequent “consumer complaint” letters – to the cab company, the airline, the newspaper editorial page – he might be anal retentive, but he might also be right.
Gerwig’s downtrodden Florence is also multi-dimensional. She takes what life hands her and makes the best of it. What there is of plot in the film hangs on whether or not these two societal fringe-dwellers can find happiness together. How much you enjoy this movie depends on how much you care about that. I found that I cared. Grade: B
Director: Noah Baumbach Cast: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Messina, Susan Traylor, Merritt Wever Release: 2010
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