Greenberg * * * *


Director: Noah Baumbach.
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Messina, Juno Temple, Jake Paltrow, Susan Traylor.

Dysfunctional families (and people) share a common theme throughout writer/director Noah Baumbach’s films. He focused on the dissolution of a relationship in “The Squid and The Whale”, a destructive neurosis in “Margot At The Wedding” and now the disintegration of a personality with “Greenberg”.

Following a nervous breakdown, New York carpenter Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) arrives in LA to look after his brothers family home and sickly dog. His path crosses with the family’s young assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), and an awkward relationship develops. He also tries to rekindle old friendships from when he was an up-and-comer quite some time ago.

Baumbach focuses yet again on neurotic behaviour and the fragility of a person crumbling under the weight of his own expectation and ambition. I wouldn’t say that I’m all that keen on Ben Stiller but like Jack Black in “Margot at the Wedding”, he puts all his irritating and outrageous send-ups aside and concentrates on acting. No, he doesn’t get his dick caught in his zip or anything, but what he does do is show restraint and puts in a very nuanced and subtley brilliant dramatic performance. This director certainly knows how to get the best out of an actor and Stiller is not alone. Greta Gerwig is absolutely marvellous and produces one of the most natural and beautifully rich performances I’ve seen in a long time. This is an actress that deserves more attention. Rhys Ifans is also very endearing and adds depth and realism as Greenberg’s long suffering friend. It’s a trio of excellent performances, making the characters really come alive and Baumbach displays a talent for capturing the everyday perfectly, showing an affinity with Woody Allen in his sharp observations and neurotic characters.
Roger Greenberg as a character has a lot in common with Nicole Kidman’s Margot in their social awkwardness and almost natural ability to hurt someones feelings and despite Stiller’s excellent performance, that’s what hinders the film slightly. He’s a detestable, rude and egotistical man, that we are forced to spend a lot of time with, making it less enjoyable than the director’s previous outings to angst-ville.

Despite the irritatingly self-absorbed character and his very privileged lifestyle this is still another refined and assured character study from the very talented Noah Baumbach.

Mark Walker


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