I’m entering the world of Noah Baumbach and it’s a very fascinating place. I first knew him as the some-time creative partner of Wes Anderson, my favorite director. The first Baumbach-directed movie I saw was The Squid and the Whale. It’s been a while, but I remember liking it & its twisted, dysfunctional, and yet still believable vibe. Next I saw Frances Ha. You can check out my review of that film; basically it was a one-woman show that wasn’t strongly written or directed. Next up, Greenberg. I was primed to like this one, as I actually think Ben Stiller is a good actor and at times will defend him (see my Meet the Parents review). I was looking forward to the weird character he developed, the awkward moments between he & Greta Gerwig, and a general strangeness that I was sure to like. Well, the movie was definitely weird, awkward, and strange, but not always in a good way.
Roger Greenberg has problems. He is incredibly anxious, has a hard time relating to people, can’t stop writing letters of complaint to businesses & politicians, and has just been checked out of a mental institution. In order to regroup he flies out to L.A. to house sit for his wealthy brother while he & his family are on vacation. Roger just has to relax, look after the dog, and try to get his life back in order. There to help is his brother’s assistant Florence, a strange character as well, with a need-to-please attitude and exactly no sense of life direction. Roger & Florence hit it off right way, but they are both incapable of a genuine and/or healthy relationship. As the weeks pass, both of them attempt to find love, sanity, stability, anything that will stop their crazy worlds from spinning and allow them to actually make smart, grown-up decisions.
I’m coming to terms with Noah Baumbach movies now, figuring them out a little. They’re weird, quite simply. They are uncomfortable, embarrassing at times, and often unrealistic. But the fantasy is just real life blown up for better viewing, an exaggeration of the problems & fears we all face. His movies are stories of chaos peppered with brilliance. And so one minute he’s losing me and the next I just heard the most profound & beautiful thing. The up-and-down is hard to accept & enjoy, but then again that’s how the characters are living, with extreme highs and lows. In the end, adding up the great & not-so-great moments, I find myself liking but not loving his style. Perhaps some amazing acting would push me over the top, but that wasn’t on display here. I think Ben Stiller is great, but not in this role. I felt like he was faking it; it just never felt honest. And Greta Gerwig was fine, but I didn’t feel any chemistry or connection between Florence & Greenberg, and that’s a major problem. It was a love story after all, if a very odd one; they both loved the dog more than each other. That might have been the point, that they were both too messed up to love anyone, and that’s fine. But I got that at the beginning and the film didn’t expand on that theme enough to make me rave about it when the final credits ran.
My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰