Saturday 10 November 2018

Movie Review: Greenberg (2010)

A drama and romance with some comic elements, Greenberg focuses on quirkiness caused by mental issues but is hampered by a lack of cohesion and an unconvincing romance.

Phillip Greenberg (Chris Messina) and his family use twentysomething and single Florence (Greta Gerwig) as a personal assistant, nanny and sitter to their dog Mahler. The Greenbergs depart to a multi-week vacation in Vietnam, leaving Florence in charge, although Phillip's undependable brother Roger (Ben Stiller) arrives from New York to stay at the empty house. Roger has just been released from hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown, and is intent on doing nothing for a while.

Roger and Florence are both lonely, meet at the house, and start exploring a relationship. Roger also reconnects with his old bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who is going through as trial separation from his wife, and Ruth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an ex-girlfriend. Eric (Mark Duplass), another former bandmate, is still angry at Roger for botching a record deal 15 years prior. The dog Mahler suffers a serious illness, forcing Roger and Florence to spend more time together, but his erratic behaviour and mood swings are difficult to tolerate.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, Greenberg is a choppy experience. The initial focus on Florence works well, but Baumbach wants to tell the story of Roger, and the film quickly runs into trouble when the focus shifts. Whether due to his nervous breakdown or just his foul personality, Roger is shiftless, aimless, undependable, and temperamental, and it's difficult to see what Florence or anyone else would see in him to prompt a desire to have a relationship.

In the absence of a rational romance Greenberg offers precious little else. Roger's strained relationship with his former bandmates is promising context but the same conversation is repeated three times, and the health issues of the dog Mahler consume inordinate screen time as an excuse for Roger, who does not drive, to keep on calling Florence. Her excessive helpfulness and inability to ever stand up for herself is frustrating, but also the one explanation offered as to why she keeps accommodating his mood swings.

Greta Gerwig is far and away the the best thing in the movie as a free spirited woman starting to wonder if the prime of her life is slipping away, and Greenberg suffers most in its second half when Florence is absent for long stretches. Ben Stiller does little other than push moody button.

Greenberg aims for idiosyncratic, but stumbles into obnoxious.

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