Directed by: Noah Baumbach | 107 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Koby Rouviere, Sydney Rouviere, Chris Messina, Susan Traylor, Merritt Wever, Emily Lacy, Aaron Wrinkle, Heather Lockie, Chris Coy, Zach Chassler, Mina Badie, Rhys Ifans, Blair Tefkin
It goes without saying that even the greatest fun pants can be suitable for high-quality drama – whether or not mixed with the genre of comedy. Jim Carrey proved it with “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Adam Sandler did it with “Punch Drunk Love,” Robin Williams won an Oscar in “Good Will Hunting”. In particular surprising “Greenberg” is the turn of Ben Stiller, who after top success “Tropic Thunder” has focused on a number of smaller projects.
Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a somewhat withdrawn forty-something who declined a record deal fifteen years ago, left his family and group of friends and traded entrances into the Los Angeles music industry for a life as a carpenter in New York. Nowadays Roger is not doing anything. He has just been released from a psychiatric hospital, where he has been admitted for several weeks to work on, among other things, his negative attitude and obsessions. The fact that his brother is on vacation with the family in Vietnam, he uses to give shape to doing nothing in LA by looking after his house and dog. A responsibility that he shares with 25-year-old Florence (Greta Gerwig), his brother’s assistant, with whom he almost immediately enters into a relationship that is somewhere in between friendship and relationship.
The small-scale story that then unfolds could have been written by Todd Solondz, or Charlie Kaufman – if he left his surrealism out – and could just as well have been a play. The eccentric Roger, who spends most of his days writing complaint letters about stocking stuffers (his seat on the plane, the carpet in the animal taxi) and building a doghouse, also uses his time in LA to strengthen old ties. Or in some cases cut for good, it seems. His departure and especially the missed record contract did not go well with all those who stayed behind. For example, his friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) had to leave the music industry to become a computer technician, which Roger is partly blamed for. The heart of the story, however, is mainly the quasi-relationship with Florence, with whom he seems to be taking the first steps towards a possible existence that better suits a man of his age. The relationship develops in fits and starts, but the collective concern about sheepdog Mahler (as MacGuffin in disguise) keeps bringing the couple together.
The humor is mainly in the sharp, pitiable observation of Roger and his clumsy approaches and approaches, which are invariably followed by emotional outbursts to keep the other at a distance. The drama behind it is not forced anywhere, so the film retains its pleasant lightness without giving you the idea that things should have been better explained – such as the precise reasons behind Greenberg’s recording. Stiller here touches on Woody Allen’s characteristic neurote, while Gerwin is reminiscent of the liberal nature of a Zooey Deschanel. The result is a successful drama that’s really just a little romantic comedy, pulled above average by the interesting characters and some neat finds in a script full of quirky humor.