AFED #95: Greenberg (US, 2010); Dir. Noah Baumbach

I like Ben Stiller. He may not possess the virtuoso comic talents of some of his SNL alumni but manages to both funny and amiable, at least in those films I've seen. Sometimes, as with Meet the Parents and its sequels it allows him to serve as a foil to other performers, while the excesses of There's Something About Mary would have been dark and vulgar but for his sympathetic turn in the lead role.

Greenberg represents the almost obligatory foray for any middle-aged Hollywood star into quasi independent or less mainstream territory. Over the years this has yielded some fascinating results, from Burt Lancaster's dip into art cinema with The Swimmer to Bruce Willis's career-reviving role in Pulp Fiction. The great thing about such projects is there's nothing to lose; if the star's performance is lauded then it enhances their reputation, if not it's soon forgotten.

Fittingly then it's the story of a fortysomething man who's arrived at a crossroads, or if you prefer mid-life crisis. Roger Greenberg, a carpenter by trade who once had a shot at pop stardom, has recently been released from a New York mental hospital following a breakdown. When his brother's family head off for a six week vacation in Vietnam, Roger returns to L.A. to house and dog-sit. Before long he's catching up with his best friend and former bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and becoming acquainted with his brother's mildly kooky personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig).

Unsurprisingly Greenberg is a far from straightforward guy; while his old friends and acquaintances have moved on and settled down his life has drifted along with little consequence and much prevarication. An intense, self-absorbed character; Greenberg's the sort who's highly sensitive while at the same time incapable of recognising the effects of his own behaviour on others. Florence in particular suffers as Greenberg struggles to reconcile himself with the idea of a relationship with her.

Indeed it's the curious non chemistry between Greenberg and Florence, highlighted by some very awkward love scenes, that's perhaps the most distinctive facet of the story. Kindred spirits they may be but you struggle to believe there's an attraction; it's as though the conceit of romantic coupling is being exposed or ridiculed. It's the first time I can recall encountering Greta Gerwig and she's a perfectly fine actress but while pretty not the most alluring.

Ultimately, following some riotous drug-taking and exchanging of views with the younger generation at party, Greenberg appears to reach some kind of decision about his life although it's hard to believe it will be a definitive one. Given how slight the plot it's hard not to feel cheated yet perhaps appropriate to whatever truth the film is trying to convey.

The film's depiction of Los Angeles - a sprawling, featureless and strangely agoraphobic city where it's difficult to get anywhere without a car - is reminiscent of Wenders' Paris, Texas and given that also dealt with a man coming to terms with life after a breakdown, uncertain quite what he wants, perhaps it's no coincidence. However, the tone here is far more whimsical, abetted by James (LCD Soundsystem) Murphy's stylish yet bittersweet musical accompaniment.


Popular posts from this blog

Fade out - 2013 in review

In Search of Vanessa Howard

The Satisfied Eye International Film Festival