Greenberg, Dir. Noah Baumbach (2010)


Florence (Greta Gerwig), Ivan (Rhys Ifans) attempt to make Roger's (Ben Stiller) birthday a cheery one.

Rating: 9/10

US Indie films seem to thrive on the idea of misanthropes doing, well, nothing particularly much whilst they and surrounding quirky characters spout quotable and witty aphorisms. Baumbach certainly doesn’t stray too far from this often critically approved formula, but still manages to inject his film with great insights and interesting characters you can invest in.

The film takes as it central character Roger Greenberg, (Ben Stiller, who as in The Royal Tenebaums proves his ability to give a more subtle, dramatic and layered performance) a bored middle-aged man who decides to take a break from carpentry and just do nothing, house sitting for his brother in sunny LA to escape from New York. It’s also important to note that he has just been released from a mental hospital after having suffered a nervous breakdown, which explains some of his often neurotic and abrupt behaviour throughout the film.

While he is doing ‘nothing’ we meet his friend and ex-band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans in top supporting form), who we later learn is resentful that Roger refused to sign a major record deal with their band on issues of principle.  He also doggedly and pitifully pursues his ex-girlfriend  Beth (the ever engaging Jenifer Jason Leigh, who also collaborated with Baumbach on the film’s story) who now has kids and  zero interest in getting back together with Roger and has clearly moved on.  He also meets his brother’s PA the pretty and, you guessed it, kooky and vulnerable Florence (Greta Gerwig in a breakout role), who Roger cruelly dismisses and then realises he actually really likes (as I say it’s not the most original of films but sti. He also look after his brother’s dog who to his brother’s anger gets sick while in his care. He also writes a  lot of angry letters to various companies complaining about such grand matters as the faulty recline button on his American Airlines flight.

The  film is full of great lines such as when Roger’s embittered response to Ivan’s belief that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ is that ‘life is wasted on people’ (the film also has a great party scene which shows through Roger’s questioning of the twenty-somethings at the party, how much assumptions about young people’s lifestyles and attitudes are formed by the media. As Roger says casually whilst high on coke:  “I read an article: aren’t you guys all just fucking on the internet?”). But it is also more than just witty lines, what make it better than trendier-than-thou films like Juno is that you really want to know what motivates someone like Roger. You see that behind the pessimism and cruel behaviour is disappointment and frustration, “hurt people hurt people” as Florence puts it. While with Florence though you at first wonder why she would fall for an odd-ball like Roger, you also see that part of it is probably her own insecurity, while another part is that she-unlike other ordinary people- is able to see, despite everything, something to like and admire.  The result is that the developing relationship between Roger and Florence is genuinely touching and well-developed, with good chemistry between Gerwig and Greenberg. 

So if you’re looking for a film which is fast and furious with MTV-like editing look away, but if you’re looking for a film that’s intelligent,  funny, subtle and honest look no further.