May-December Series: Greenberg
(The heading’s pretty self-explanatory.)
The first few minutes of “Greenberg” play like a lost Hal Ashby, watching Florence (Greta Gerwig) walking with a dog. It isn’t said if she’s a born Angeleno or if she moved from somewhere else. She straddles the line between smart and ditzy, having the same, almost drowsy voice that girls in their mid-20’s have. She’d be a full ditz if she didn’t have the indie girl look. She has a decent nightlife and sometimes has gigs in bars, crooning about the prairies. I live in Canada and I’m up to here with prairie shit and I didn’t know white girls sang about the prairies down there too.
Then Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes in to house sit and dog sit for her brother and the mood of the film changes into a portrayal of one bad date into another between Florence and Roger. “Do you remember they played Albert Hammond when it’s raining.” “You like old stuff?” For some frustrating reason she still comes back to him despite warnings from her best friend, who knows from Florence that he’s been in a mental institution, saying “If you see him again, I’ll stop talking to you.” Most of us would say the same thing.
For a while the movie veers into unwatchable territory. Some people have to be prepared for this kind of movie. I wasn’t – this is my first Baumbach. But at the same time, there’s an integrity in showing Roger mistreating people and accusing people of parental issues and people having awkward conversations and having really awkward sex.
The romance between Florence and Roger isn’t cookie cutter at all and it delivers a message that there’s probably no right person for anyone. Metaphorically, the two of them are different pieces of the puzzle. One thing they have in common except for their disfranchisement, which we don’t often remember because they clash so much. But in finding each other, they have to make it work.
There’s also honesty in the multitude of voices in this movie. There’s Florence, there’s Roger’s acerbic humour, there’s Roger’s college age niece and her friend calling other girls sluts. All of these portraits are brutal but not denigrating. When these voices clash, it could be excruciating but it’s, again, honest enough not to have the distance to make those characters hilarious – we empathize with them instead of being entertained by them. Most of the time we’re stuck with Roger’s, but despite how infuriating his personality could be, he is right about a few things and right about calling them out. His best friend (Rhys Ifans) shouldn’t go back to his marriage to a racist woman, it is annoying when people treat public spaces as their living rooms, and what is up with Florence’s ironic Girls Gone Wild story?
P.s. Saw this at the Varsity. I had to change seats because some old guy kept dropping sunflower seed shells on the floor, people kept their iPhones on to navigate through the dark theatre for their friends. Two fratboys in white T’s kept whispering to each other (I couldn’t hear him but a guy with a girlfriend yelled at them at one point), and finally walked out telling everyone in the theatre that the movie was fucking boring (they may have a point, but they didn’t stay ’till the end). These fuckers should have been filtered out after the second week but there they are at week 5. It’s both strange and comforting that Ben Stiller + Artsy movie join forces together and are still standing after a month. But again, apparently not everyone’s cup of tea.
P.s. Speaking of not everyone’s cup of tea, here’s a review from my friend’s friend, Julien.