Stiller shines in otherwise dull Greenberg

Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg causes a lot of simultaneous reactions, including refreshment, boredom and dissimulation.

It is refreshing to not have to don 3D glasses and actually watch people act on screen. Greenberg has no fancy gimmicks or brooding vampires, just people interacting the old-fashioned way.

A short cunnilingus act kicks off the romance between Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) and Florence Marr (unknown Greta Gerwig) with a bang. It is awkward in every sense, starting with her as a personal assistant to Greenberg’s brother. Unlike many Hollywood blockbuster romances, it shows how real life is an awkward mess, not a fairy tale with a killer wardrobe.

Ben Stiller’s choice in a new role is refreshing. After suffering a nervous breakdown in New York, his character comes back home to Los Angeles to see old friends and relax. It is easy to forget he starred in Night at the Museum after this stellar performance. He portrays a wide range of emotions dead on — one minute he’s contending for America’s biggest asshole, the next he is high as a kite and opening up to Florence.

It is through Stiller that Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) makes an abundance of social commentary. The still rather anal Greenberg makes a point to write a letter to each company he comes into contact with. One lucky recipient is Starbucks, who he is dissatisfied with for selling fast food as culture. Or after a slew of cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, Greenberg comments on Generation X, MySpace and the knowledge gap. Gerwig manges to almost outshine Stiller. Although the character’s decisions are anything but commendable — especially her choice in Greenberg — the audience can still connect with her.

The cinematography also deserves some credit. The lighting, striving to emulate sunny Los Angeles, is a welcome contrast to the story’s plotline. The close-ups serve the movie and are done exceptionally well.

Regardless of all the acting talent, Greenberg manages to be boring in the sense that it still drags on from one issue to the next with no real drama. Baumbach and his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh wrote the screenplay together, with him directing and her producing — along with playing Stiller’s ex-girlfriend. This results in the movie being one big act of compromise, the most important aspect of a successful marriage. It is as if one half of the duo brought the idea to the table and the other shot it down, but let an insipid version into theatres. There is much going on, yet it ends up as nothing at all.

The movie is dissimulating as a comedy. It is unconventionally funny, but only sometimes. Think a lot less funny than a Cohen brothers flick like A Serious Man or Burn After Reading, but with a few more laughs than Funny People.

Greenberg tries too hard to be a dark indie comedy but the success of those films is by making it seem effortless. Baumbach ends up putting less effort into the end- ing.

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