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Greenberg

August 4, 2010

Stories of awkward people have been a regular theme in cinema since the 80s with films like Revenge of the Nerds and John Hughes’ cult classics. By the late 1990s independent and foreign films such as Happiness and The Celebration went to the extreme by introducing socially inept and depraved characters while asking audiences to sympathize with these people. By the 2000s the quirky characters of films like Me You and Everyone We Know, Wristcutters, and Superbad were not only common in films but accepted as the “underdog” and well-loved. However Noah Baumach takes a slightly different approach in his film Greenberg. Instead of asking the audience sympathize with the plight of his characters, he instead requests that the audience simply observe.

Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig) works as a personal assistant in LA for the Greenberg family, current on vacation in Vietnam. Their vacant home becomes occupied by Philip’s New York dwelling brother, Roger (Ben Stiller), who fresh out of the loony bin after a nervous breakdown decides to keep himself busy by building the family dog a house. His self-induced neurosis prevents him from driving in the city causing Roger to rely on Florence in order to get groceries and booze as well as handling his daily business. After spending repeated close time together, a romance between the two expectantly develops. However due to their own inner demons their romance quickly becomes “complicated,” if defined on facebook that is.

The relationship is doomed from the start as both characters are unstable and jaded by their own baggage. Florence who is attempting to break herself of the habit of one-night stands after a breakup desperately clings to Roger, making excuses for his bad habits and insensitivity. Roger on the other hand tries to shake himself from any responsibility whatsoever except to himself while also dealing with decisions of his past and his personal flaws. The two get caught in a cycle of ups and downs with the film’s ending leaving their fate just as complicated and unknown as the beginning.

So why watch two neurotic adults who don’t know what they want out of life for nearly two hours? I’m not sure, but it just works. Ben Stiller becomes Roger Greenberg, a narcissistic condescending 40-something who’s ticks and annoyances with the world leave him jaded and insensitive. He invests most of his time handwriting rough drafts and printing final copies of complaint letters to various companies; Starkbucks, Hollywood Pet Taxi, and American Airlines for minuscule annoyances such as small reclining chair buttons. Roger acts as though he was born at the turn of the century and is now disgusted by the promiscuity of women, the change in youth’s behavior and the incompetence of others. Yet Stiller brings something likable to the character. Whether you love or hate Roger, the viewer becomes entranced by his way of thinking and his quirks. Stiller begs empathy for his character by emphasizing his mannerisms while the editing further details Roger’s old soul and awkward personality through jump cuts and unexpected sound edits.

The editing is by and large the main reason sympathy is hard to gain from this film. Both characters are far from one-dimensional however the editing allows for so much time to pass in between encounters, sometimes unexpectedly, that it’s hard to cheer for the budding romance. A sense of time is lost within Greenberg, making some encounters between Florence and Roger seem rushed and awkward. Yet taking into consideration the mental instability of both characters, these encounters fall into place and work for the film instead of against it. While overall an enjoyable film, watching two self-loathers interact with each other can at times take away from Greenberg. However the trudging story of an awkward relationship captivates the audience through great performances and subtle comedy.

SEE IT.

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