Sometimes I’ll read a scathing film review, and think to myself “Actually, that sounds kinda fun”, and sometimes I’ll read a glowing review, and think “Yeah, I’m never gonna watch that”. Which is exactly how I felt about Greenberg (2010) when it first came out… but then last week I saw it going cheap in a charity shop, and my completist curiosity got the better of me.
For those who don’t know, this low-key dramedy stars Ben Stiller as the eponymous ‘Roger Greenberg’, who agrees to housesit for his brother’s family, while they’re on vacay in Vietnam. It emerges in the first few scenes that Roger has only recently been released from hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown, and is still ill at ease with the world… but he starts to warm up a little when he meets his brother’s eager young gofer, ‘Florence Marr’, played by Greta Gerwig. He also half-heartedly tries to reconnect with a former bandmate, played by Rhys Ifans, and a former girlfriend played by co-writer Jennifer Jason Leigh. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of slice-of-life, shaggy-dog stories like this one… it doesn’t really have a recognisable “story arc”, going by the definition my writing tutors used to drill into us. It has conflicts and developments, but no real resolution… it doesn’t end as such, it just stops. Maybe I’m a little simple-minded (don’t answer that!), but I would have preferred it to have a more formulaic structure, like a traditional rom-com. In other words, I like a little more stardust, and a little less awkward cunnilingus. Although I found Stiller’s performance engaging, and often quite funny (especially in his scenes with Ifans), overall I found the film a bit of a drag… until Brie Larson and Juno Temple appeared, that is!
Larson plays Roger’s college-age niece, ‘Sara’, while Temple tags along as her adorable Aussie mate, ‘Muriel’. The two of them invade the house sometime around the seventy minute mark, and throw a big party for all their friends, where Roger does some drugs, bores the guests with his observations about “kids today”, and annoys them with his musty music selections… at one point I’m pretty sure Muriel yelled for him to put some AC/DC on, which just made her even more adorable in my eyes/ears. Not so sure about the random coughing fits and mystery itches, but nobody’s perfect, right? Larson and Temple have several fun scenes together, and they bring some much needed life and levity to the piece… but sadly they don’t stick around very long. I should say Gerwig also gives a good performance here in the lead role, but I didn’t really warm to her character much… she was far too willing to passively swallow all of Roger’s emotionally abusive bullshit for my liking. And I can’t say I find dialogue-free shots of her driving around town nearly as fascinating as the director (Noah Baumbach) apparently did, either!