When it was originally released theatrically in 2010, Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg seemingly was a star vehicle for Ben Stiller. It didn’t really achieve great box-office success, despite some good reviews in the mix. As time goes on, it will be seen more as a forerunner of a showcase for the talents of Greta Gerwig, Brie Larson and Juno Temple, who all have gone on to achieve some success elsewhere (notably Larson who subsequently won a deserved Academy Award last year for her excellent performance in Room).
Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a carpenter who returns to his brother’s LA family home whilst they are on vacation in Vietnam. He meets his brother’s assistant, Florence Marr (Gerwig) who walks the family dog (Greenberg is apparently building a dog house for it) and whilst on his sabbatical from life, Greenberg also gets invited to a barbecue by his long-term friend, Ivan (Rhys Ifans) at a mutual friend’s house and also encounters an ex-girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom he confides his so-called plan of inertia whilst staying in LA…..
In the hands of the likes of Cameron Crowe or Woody Allen, Greenberg could and should be an enlightening tale of human emotional discovery and idealism, but unfortunately it falls down flat in a number of areas. It is promoted as a comedy-drama, yet there doesn’t appear to be much of either on show.
The biggest flaw and problem is that the main character story here is not Greenberg’s, but Florence’s. She is actually the first face we see on screen over the credits and something is drastically wrong when a lead title character actually doesn’t have a constructively resolved arc throughout the film.
Actors aspire all the time to show their colours in both dramatic and comedic roles. Tom Hanks is probably the big name example who has successfully made that transition from comedy to drama with the likes of Splash and Big to Philadelphia and Saving Private Ryan. Gerwig demonstrates a lot of presence which was heightened in her recent film Mistress America (itself a Woody Allen-wannabe film). Larson is also a strong presence in the film but sadly only appears towards the end of the film as Greenberg’s niece, when she hosts a party at the house to commemorate her leaving for Australia with her friend (Temple).
This reviewer tried to like this film a bit more than they have but it isn’t really the best showcase for genuinely talented people. Gerwig is the saving grace of this film, whilst Stiller needs to reassess his career and go for choices that demonstrate the strengths he has shown in films like There’s Something About Mary and Zoolander.
GREENBERG / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NOAH BAUMBACH / STARRING: BEN STILLER, GRETA GERWIG, RHYS IFANS, JENNIFER JASON LEIGH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW