Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Producer: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Rudin
Cast: Ben Stiller (Roger Greenberg), Greta Gerwig (Florence Marr), Rhys Ifans (Ivan Schrank), Jennifer Jason Leigh
Low-key indie comedy, 1 hour 47 minutes
Ben Stiller is not normally known for his subtlety. He achieved his stardom with broad comedies such as There's Something About Mary, Zoolander, and Tropic Thunder. On the other hand, indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach makes comedies with particular delicacy. They tend to be a little dark and bleak, and are often on the plotless side. But his writing is keenly observed and witty, and I think he’s much more talented than his occasional writing partner Wes Anderson.
It’s no surprise then that for Greenberg, Stiller gives his most restrained and natural onscreen performance. There are only the odd brief flashes of the schtick which you might expect. It’s a brave choice for him since it isn’t in his comfort zone, and he pulls it off remarkably well.
His character Roger Greenberg is not a likeable man. Having lost his job, he heads to L.A. to housesit for his brother who’s on vacation in Vietnam. He’s content to do nothing, and like Margot at the Wedding’s Malcolm (played by Jack Black) he’s fond of writing angry letters to the editor. He also strikes up an odd relationship with his brother’s assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig).
Baumbach is a master at drawing humour from difficult and painful situations. Every scene has that fine balance. Although Greenberg isn’t the most pleasant fellow, he’s nonetheless sympathetic and genuine.
This movie won’t be for everyone. Baumbach films have an unsparing quality, like French or East European cinema, or like a darker version of Woody Allen. But approached with an open mind, his films are strangely compelling and enjoyable. Greenberg is another gem from a unique artistic talent.