One convenient thing about living in the city is that you don’t have to go as far out of your way to find those smaller movies that the general movie-going audience doesn’t really care about. Greenberg, the latest offering from writer-director Noah Baumbach seems to be one of those films. It’s kind of an odd little gem, as one might expect from Baumbach, and it’s a film I’d recommend seeking out if you have the chance.
Ben Stiller stars as Roger Greenberg, a former musician who’s been recently released from a mental institution. The film shows Greenberg returning to his hometown of Los Angeles after spending some years living in New York, as he’s been asked to housesit for his successful brother while he’s on vacation. He strikes up an awkward romantic relationship with Florence (played by Greta Gerwig) and from there the plot unfolds in a pretty loose and leisurely way, as the characters are really what make the film compelling.
This movie seems to be getting the reputation as Ben Stiller’s “Punch Drunk Love”, and I guess that’s a fair comparison as this is probably the most well-rounded performance Stiller has ever given. Stiller is pretty much free of his usual comedic tendencies, and yet he still manages to pull off some very funny scenes as this character that is more or less a self-centered prick. Also, Greta Gerwig serves as an interesting romantic foil to Stiller while giving a very charming, naturalistic performance that I’m sure will bring the actress more attention.
One thing I really liked about the film was how “real” Baumbach has managed to make these characters feel. Usually in indie dramedies of this nature, the dialogue can often feel really mannered and overtly quirky, but here the characters have an added depth to them that makes the film a real pleasure to watch. So if this leads to Ben Stiller exploring more demanding roles like this one, I really wouldn’t mind, as I’ve rarely found him as funny, complicated, and altogether engaging as he is in Greenberg.