I was really excited when I heard Noah Baumbach had a new film. Although I was disappointed in his last film “Margot at the Wedding”, maybe a lot of people liked it I didn’t. However thinking about “Kicking and Screaming” and “The Squid and the Whale” I entered the movie theater with great excitement. I wasn’t disappointed.
The story is about Roger Greenberg, a guy who was a former musician and backed out of the opportunity of their lifetime or so it seemed. Now Greenberg works as a carpenter and whose vocation is writing eloquent letters of complaint about apparently minor inconveniences. He appears to be seriously emotionally troubled. The character played by Ben Stiller as a 40 year old with of raw nerves and complex defense mechanisms, Roger returns to Los Angeles after 15 years in New York and a short stay in a mental hospital after a breakdown. He stays in the large hillside house of his brother, who has gone with his wife and children to Vietnam for a long vacation.
Greenberg’s premise is that he wants to do the right thing, he has gone through what it seems a complicated life. Whether he succeeds is an open question. He looks up some old friends, worries about the neighbors and his brother’s dog, and pursues an awkward stop-and-start romance with his brother’s personal assistant, Florence Marr played by Greta Gerwig. Roger seems to have a hard time leaving his youth, he has some issues in this regard, but Florence, who hangs out in art galleries with her friends and sometimes sings emo stuff at an empty hipster bar, she really is 25. The film has a love story part between these two characters; she is captivated by Greenberg’s aloofness and with no great self-esteem or maybe a deep compassion she falls for his him.
Although he is a narcissist, “Greenberg” is not all about him. There are lots of aspects about this film that I can relate to. It is perhaps the funniest and saddest movie Baumbach has made so far, and also the riskiest. Ben Stiller is absolutely great in this film he was able to suppress his comedian persona, turns Roger into a challenge to the Hollywood axiom that a movie’s protagonist must be likable. But Baumbach was brilliant in writing this character that inspires all kinds of emotions he treats Greenberg with compassion, even tenderness.
The question is how do you find yourself? Sometimes against even your best interests, to venture that kind of generosity, Baumbach turns what might have been a case study of neurosis into an exploration of loneliness, friendship and the sense of emotional deprivation that grows in an atmosphere of comfort.
The film is absolutely amazing. I hope Ben Stiller is considered by the serious award giving mechanisms for his great performance, as for Baumbach he continues on creating deeply emotional, complicated and personal comedies. Go see it.