Showing 1 - 4 of 4 Reviews
Posted on 3/25/10 04:59 AM
With Greenberg, director Noah Baumbach sharpens his usual focus on the greedy ticks of self-absorbed protagonists by pointing his camera on nothing less than a formerly institutionalized misanthrope, probably his most extremely dysfunctional character to date. But the title character is something much more than a self-centered egoist who hates people. He re-directs the hatred he has for himself into disdain for the behaviors of not only what he perceives are the common masses but the actions of those that love him. Baumbach and his wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, craft a masterful script to form Greenberg, and Ben Stiller does an amazing, patient job at bringing this character to life.
Greenberg is a carpenter with an attitude fueled by a passion for letters of complaint to companies like Starbucks and American Airlines and wistful memories of playing in a new wave/post-punk trio in the 80s that nearly signed a major label deal. But the only real talent he has is finding something to complain about in every situation he stumbles into, especially with those he thinks he knows. His letters of opinion are nothing compared to the anger he throws on those closest to him.
After supposedly being released from a mental hospital, Greenberg, a New Yorker, finds himself house-sitting for his brother in Los Angeles. While Greenberg's brother heads off to enjoy Vietnam with his wife and kids, Greenberg is left to tend to the family dog, who has grown dangerously anemic (Greenberg at one point worries about catching the dog's illness, but it's as if the dog actually caught it from him). In the meantime, he takes advantage of his brother's personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring singer in her mid 20s with a weak self-esteem. Despite his crude manner of canceling a date with her at a bar to instead split her only bottle of beer at her place, she accepts his advances for a brief sexual encounter that ends as abruptly as it had begun, doing nothing for either one of them.
As their relationship turns on but mostly off, the care of the dog seems to provide the only glue that can hold them together. Greenberg also spends much of his time catching up with his former band mate and longtime friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans), a soft-spoken man whose 10-year marriage with the mother of his only son has begun to unravel. Greenberg is more happy about the marriage's dissolution than he is about signs Ivan can work it out. During a dinner out with Ivan and Florence, Greenberg suddenly shuts down an attempt by Ivan to celebrate Greenberg's 40th birthday by having the waiters bring over a cake and sing "Happy Birthday" with a tantrum. These two characters' generous attempts to show Greenberg some affection coupled with their own sorry states provide the perfect foils for Greenberg, whose weak anger could find no more comfortable place (there are some brief moments when Greenberg tries to confront strangers to sad but funny ineffectiveness).
Stiller's performance is nothing short of brave because you can bet lots of people will come to this movie expecting the buffoonery that helped get him the popularity he currently enjoys. But this movie is no Dodge Ball or Tropic Thunder. The last time Stiller did something this low-key was in Reality Bites, though the Greenberg character is probably as ugly as the one in Permanent Midnight, a hardcore tragic drama of a man's rise and fall in the world of writing a sitcom for TV, based on the true story of the writer behind "ALF." That film remains one of his least popular.
In Greenberg, Stiller captures his character's complex as much with his pauses and silences as with his harsh opinions. At Greenberg's low-key 40th birthday celebration, when Ivan says, "Youth is wasted on the young," Greenberg responds by saying, "I'd go further," while staring down at his menu. "I'd say life is wasted on ... people."
I was hoping this to be a laugh-a-minute, though self-deprecating film like the Squid and the Whale, but Baumbach has taken the self-deprecation to a whole new level, along the lines of Margot at the Wedding. Greenberg is a dark glimpse into a man who only seems misanthropic but is actually more in love with his sad, negative self than anyone else around him. Greenberg is a walking pile of hang-ups that he constantly projects on others. What he hates about people is what he hates about himself. Throughout the movie, Greenberg meets people who have moved on and grown up, while Greenberg seems to delight in his therapist's analysis of his issues. Toward the end of the movie, he attempts to bond with Florence telling her, "My shrinks says, I have trouble living in the present, so I linger on the past because it felt like I didn't ever really live it in the first place." Again, his attempts to bond with others turns to himself.
The movie culminates with a drug-fueled party, where Greenberg finally gets a look in the mirror per se, as scores of young people surround him, and it's literally an unrecognizable, lifeless creature floating in his brother's pool with a single eye staring back at him. From here on, he can either choose to run further from himself and his life or dive in and start to finally live. In the Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus wrote, "This world has a higher meaning that transcends its worries, or nothing is true but those worries. One must live with time or die with it, or else elude the greater life." Baumbach offers no clear answers as to whether this lump of wounded humanity has learned to take personal responsibility for maintaining a relationship. The audience can only hope that Greenberg's choice at the end of the movie to not run away from his developing sense of self is but the start of something remotely caring of others.
In the end, Greenberg proves itself as one of those rare character studies that keeps you hooked with interest thanks to a strongly drawn out and naturally played unstable protagonist (reminiscent of Adam Sandler's turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's under-appreciated Punch Drunk Love). Stiller's subtle acting is a refreshing change from his usual shrill, over-the-top clowns. Credit is also due to the supporting work by Gerwig and Ifans, who play people with more subtle hang-ups, yet know how to live in their skin with just enough comfort. Baumbach has turned one of the darker corners of his film career, but it shines an amazing spotlight on human behavior.
Posted on 2/20/10 11:21 AM
The problem I had with this movie are the cheap scares that saturate it. I think it winds up trivializing this story, which could have been more creepy and, at the same time, more respectful to the true story that inspired it.
During the scary scenes, I could have done without the exaggerated camera angles, that cliche cloying hyper violin grinding and the annoying music stings that are beyond cliche in horror movies. Sheesh. Why make a horror movie that is supposedly trying to go beyond the same old horror movie by falling back on the tropes of the same old, boring horror movies. If you're going to break the rules, go all the way. No wonder this half-assed attempt at making a movie that was supposed to go beyond the genre ended up getting these ho-hum reception.
If there was something redeeming about this movie it is the quality of the acting. These filmmakers got lucky with the casting of Tom Wilkinson, Laura Linney and even Jennifer Carpenter. Also, the few special effects were quite amazing and unnoticeable (I had no idea some scenes featured puppets standing in for Carpenter). The old-school effects should shame those movies that lean on digital effects used to stand in for people, which stand out nowadays like the cheap props of 70s and 80s B-movies.
Posted on 6/24/09 12:46 PM
I haven't seen a romance this touching since I was the same emotionally vulnerable type of single sad sack as depicted by the hero of (500) Days of Summer.
Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has his radar up for "the girl of his dreams" when he meets Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Too bad for Tom Summer is stuck on friends-with-benefits mode. Let the tension begin.
Director Marc Webb captures the feeling of innocent, na´ve love expertly. Anyone who has taken the lyrics of the Smiths too closely to heart, would be moved by the idea of the person they are crushing on sing to them: "To die by your side/is such a heavenly way to die." No wonder Tom soon falls head over heels for this girl.
As events unfold out of sequence, you know all along Tom has fallen for a time bomb of a woman, and he can't even see the countdown. When that bomb finally blows up in his face, it unfolds with powerful simplicity-- no exposition or dialog, just two juxtaposed events that capture the heartache of reality hitting a person who sees a person through the filter of some deep-seeded emotions that where planted at
too young an age.
So many romantic films nowadays concern themselves with cute ideas, take 'He's Just Not That Into You' or 'Serendipity' for example. Then there are movies like 'Knocked Up' where a pot-smoking, video-gaming playing narcissistic slob tries to turn his life around to try and be a father. These movies forget about real people. Who cares about stock or cartoonish characters in love. The couple in (500) Days of Summer have true chemistry. There are some beautiful, subtle moments of tenderness as well some heart-rending moments of disconnectedness between the two that never comes across as heavy-handed. The movie constantly reminds you that these are two different people with different ideas of a relationship, yet they stubbornly continue their dating, and they remain lovable all the same.
An omniscient narrator sets the film up early on by noting "this is not a love story," but few films ever capture the sensation of falling in love as well as this movie does. This is up there with movies like 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'Amelie.'
Posted on 2/28/09 11:07 AM
This movie could have been so much better had it focused on the perspective of Mike, instead of concerning itself so much about the reasons for Jim's behavior. I say keep Jim an enigma (it would have made him even scarier) and let teh story be about the horror show unfolding before the eyes of Mike. It's Mike who seems the more honestly conflicted a character than Jim anyway, who's just losing it beyond his control. His psychosis makes him harder to relate to and then it makes the movie harder to invest it. It could have been a much cooler movie.