Tuesday, April 6, 2010

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"Life is Wasted on...People"

There's a running joke in Greenberg, wherein the protagonist sits in the passenger seat of his friends' cars as they drive. As the drivers maintain conversation while driving, Greenberg is constantly interrupting. "Light's changed," he'll say, or "Use your signal". The punchline: Greenberg doesn't drive.

This bit of business defines the character perfectly. For Roger Greenberg, probably the best performance Ben Stiller's given since Zoolander, is an asshole. And not just an asshole, but the kind of asshole who knows everyone else is wrong, even if they have more authority on the subject than he does. Moody, emotionally abusive, overly critical, and pretentiously unpretentious, Greenberg both unlikable and sympathetic. You want him to wake up and realize what a jerk he is, yet you sense that it's not going to happen. Some people just don't change. But you can hope, right?

Greta Gerwig is the love interest, a bright spot amidst the melancholy. Though she, too, is a lost soul, she at least has the ability to smile without maliciousness. Gerwig crafts her character subtly and believably, and I couldn't help falling in love with her. The play between her and Stiller is funny yet scary, as they go back-and-forth between expressing their affection for each other and violently pushing away. Rhys Ifans also appears as the only other emotional tie for Greenberg, his best friend from college. I always forget how much I like him; here, he is just as subdued as the rest, but no less effective.

If there is a stumbling block, it's in its portrayal of the youth. Really? None of these twenty-somethings know have heard of Duran Duran or "Disco Inferno"? One could argue that they are crafted from Greenberg's perception of them, but the movie does not do this with anyone else. As a 21-year-old, I could only sigh. Seriously, not knowing "Disco Inferno"? It's not radios disappeared with the advent of the iPod. It's not like we didn't have parents or older siblings. And does anyone listen to Korn anymore?

But that's just every now and then. Mostly, it's a fascinating look at the 90s slacker finally coming of age...twenty years too late (I admit, that's my roommate's analysis, and I'm stealing it). It's an interesting little movie, hilarious and thoughtful. And again, great Ben Stiller performance. It makes me want to see Margot at the Wedding...or maybe revisit The Squid and the Whale, which I haven't seen since its release (I hated that movie...until I got out of the theater and started talking about it). Mostly, it makes me really appreciate the talent of Noah Baumbach.


Casey said...

This movie really intrigues me and I hope to see it very soon. I'm a fan of these sorts of movies -- it sortof looks like it could be a Wes Anderson flick. Sortof looks like it has that type of feel. Thanks for the great review!

Danny King said...

Please revisit The Squid and the Whale!

Greenberg was the first film of Baumbach's that I saw, and I recently caught up with both Margot and Squid. The latter, in my opinion, is a pretty remarkable film. Worth giving a second shot at the very least.

TomS said...

Hi Walter,
I still enjoy visitng here and checking out your movie news, and reviews.
"Greenberg"---we kind of agree on this film, although you liked it far better than I did. It seems to get better as I think about it, I just remember feeling impatient while watching it, waiting for an original insight.
"Drop by" soon!