Greenberg


Greenberg

Greta Gerwig is surprised that Ben Stiller knows his way to the kitchen.

(2010) Dramedy (Focus) Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Susan Traylor, Merritt Wever, Blair Tefkin, Mina Badie, Mark Duplass, Juno Temple, Dave Franco, Max Hoffman. Directed by Noah Baumbach

There are those among us who are just harder to get along with than others. They, for whatever reason, seem bound and determined to alienate everyone around them, pushing them away with the firm hand of someone who has no intention of letting anyone near, but terrified that they will spend their lives alone.

Roger Greenberg (Stiller) is like that. After a stint in a mental hospital, he has returned to his old L.A. stomping grounds (he used to be in a band) to housesit for his successful older brother (Messina) who is opening a new hotel in Vietnam.

His job is to care for the dog and the home while the family is gone. His brother’s assistant Florence (Gerwig) is left to hold the bag and inevitably become Greenberg’s assistant, not by choice but by necessity. Greenberg is prickly and socially awkward. He lashes out the people around him, writing letters to express his deep disappointment to various institutions and corporations. He holds people to standards he himself refuses to meet.

He hooks up with old friend Ivan (Ifans), a former member of his band and has trouble understanding why Ivan and the other bandmates were hurt by his actions, abandoning them just as it seemed they were about to achieve success, moving to New York City to become a carpenter. In the meantime, he is building a doghouse for his brother and entering a tentative, somewhat strange relationship with Florence. It is borderline abusive – Greenberg is often cruel in his remarks, sometimes purposefully so. He does things often without thinking. In short, he’s not a very nice guy. He himself doesn’t realize it – in many ways, he is the least self-aware character you will find in the movies.

Baumbach is one of the most interesting indie directors out there, with such movies as The Squid and the Whale in his credits. He has a flair for taking an unlikable character, as Greenberg is, and making them front and center and without resorting to cutesy Hollywood clichés gives the audience a way to if not relate to them at least understand them somewhat.

Stiller does perhaps the best work of his career as Roger Greenberg. Stiller’s work in comedies often puts him in the persona of a poor man’s Seinfeld – handsome, charming and quirky – but here he really comes into his own. A role like this is a bit of a chance – stars often feel the need to protect their persona as zealously as they trademark their images – but this certainly is a far cry from Stiller’s usual roles.

Gerwig has gotten a lot of positive reviews for her performance and that’s no accident; she has a very different role to tread, portraying a vulnerable and sweet girl without getting too cloying. Florence is one of those kinds of girls who you run into in bookstores from time to time, who flash that sweet but self-conscious smile for a millisecond that lights up an entire room like a flashbulb, then reverts to that mysterious half-smile that girls seem to learn from birth to bewitch guys. Her character has a shy, un-self-confident air about her and its rather sweet, but again, not cloyingly so.

Ifans is also charming, playing a bit of a sad sack, long-suffering friend who puts up with the slings and arrows Greenberg sends his way until he finally can take no more. He has a scene near the end where he has it out with Greenberg that is one of the movie’s highlights. It’s a tribute to him as an actor that you rarely notice how good he is in his role, until you think about it afterwards and realize that he was as good if not better than anyone else in it.

This is the kind of movie that defies conventions and typical Hollywood stereotypes. It’s not an easy move to watch at times – Greenberg can be an absolute rotten bastard. However, it is rewarding in that you find perhaps parts of yourself that up to now have not held up to self-examination. There’s a little bit of Greenberg in all of us; just hopefully, not a lot of him.

WHY RENT THIS: Exceedingly well-acted character study that is as fascinating as it is at times repellent.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Roger Greenberg isn’t the most likable protagonist ever; you may find yourself rooting for him to get his just deserts.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of sexuality as well as some drug use and a fair amount of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The soundtrack was composed and arranged by James Murphy of the electronic band LCD Soundsystem.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.2M on an unreported production budget; the movie probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Last King of Scotland

New Releases for the Week of March 26, 2010


March 26, 2010

Hiccup finds surfing the net is a whole 'nother ballgame when you're a Viking.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

(DreamWorks) Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kirsten Wiig. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean deBlois

Hiccup is a Viking…or rather, he lives in a Viking village and aspires to Viking-ness. However, these Vikings are all about killing the dragons that plague their village and steal their livestock. It has been a war without winner for generations until Hiccup actually meets a dragon and finds that they aren’t the monsters he was raised to believe they were. With the two sides locked in a death match, Hiccup has to find a way to get both sides to learn to see the world differently than they have been bred to in order to avoid the extermination of one or both of them.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, 3D IMAX

Rating: PG (for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language)

Chloe

(Sony Classics) Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Max Theriot. A married woman, suspecting her husband is cheating on her, hires a prostitute to test the loyalty of her man. But when the prostitute is untruthful about the nature of his fidelity, the family is embroiled in a situation that puts them all at risk. Acclaimed Canadian director Atom Egoyan has remade this from the French thriller Nathalie.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language)

Greenberg

(Focus) Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Greenberg is a forty-ish L.A. resident who finds himself adrift at a crossroads in his life. Single, unemployed and house-sitting for his more successful brother, he has nothing to show for his existence on this Earth. Trying to reconnect with old friends in an effort to find the qualities he valued in himself that are lost, he finds instead something unexpected. From director Noah Baumbach of The Squid and The Whale fame.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language)

Hot Tub Time Machine

(MGM) John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Chevy Chase. A group of four guys who have been friends for 25 years get together at a ski lodge to drink and muse about how dissatisfied they are with how their lives turned out. The four of them get into the hot tub and pass out there; when they wake up, its 1986 and they have the opportunity of a lifetime – to change their lives for the better. Trouble is, they can also change them for the much worse.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language)