What can you say about a film like Greenberg?
For starters, you can be sure that this unambitious, character-driven comedy-drama would never have been made had big names such as Ben Stiller (actor) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (producer and story — her husband Noah Baumbach directs and co-wrote the screenplay) not been attached to it. It’s one of those weird movie experiences that’s intentionally awkward, somewhat quirky, and tugs at the heart strings without making it obvious that was the aim. Is it a bad film? Not really. But is it any good? Not really either.
Greenberg is about Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old carpenter recovering from a nervous breakdown who moves from New York back to LA to “do nothing” while he house sits for his wealthy brother. It’s also about the relationship Greenberg develops with his brother’s assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aimless, slightly naive 25-year-old girl who says yes to just about everything. And it’s a little bit about Greenberg’s friend and old band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who is trying to be there for Greenberg despite going through a messy separation.
If that sounds unexciting to you, that’s because it kind of is. Expectations that something outrageous will happen in Greenberg are understandably low. After all, it’s all about the characters, their flaws, their life choices and their regrets. It’s essentially about three people wondering what they are doing with their lives and trying to make sense of a confusing world.
There are some solid scenes of self-discovery and reflection plus a couple of amusing lines in the film, but that’s not enough to save it for me. My biggest problem with it is that the titular character is not a particularly likable guy and there is no true sense of change or redemption in him. You simply follow him around as he does one strange thing after another. Consequently, the film drags through its 107-minute running time. I wouldn’t call it boring, but it was so uneventful that it gradually sapped away my anticipation for something exciting to happen.
Ultimately, I think Greenberg is one of those films that fans of quirky independent dramas will probably embrace. For everyone else, it’ll most likely be a forgettable affair.
2 stars out of 5