New on DVD: Greenberg

Posted: July 13, 2010 in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale was a smart and touching look at a family struggling to deal with separation and change in the 1980s. Greenberg is about one man’s efforts to reacquaint himself into a world he left about a decade earlier.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), single, fortyish and at a crossroads in his life, finds himself back in Los Angeles, house-sitting for six weeks for his more successful, married-with-children brother. In search of a place to restart his life, Greenberg tries to reconnect with old friends including his former bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans). But old friends aren’t necessarily still best friends and Greenberg soon finds himself spending more and more time with his brother’s personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring singer and also something of a lost soul.

Oscar-nominated writer/director Baumbach’s ability to portray utter awkwardness between characters is astounding. Greenberg commits one social faux pas after another making him very difficult to identify with or even like, but this is also becoming one of Baumbach’s signatures. He has established himself as a master of words and a good dramatic director. It’s easiest to compare his style to Wes Anderson, but that’s not a fair comparison for either filmmaker as Baumbach has his own unique touch that permeates his films. The costumes tend to appear slightly dated, but modern touches, such as cell phones, sets it closer to the present. Furthermore, Baumbach’s characters are equally complex and fully developed.

Though Greenberg is a very difficult man, the rest of the characters are very interesting and easier to sympathize with or like. Florence almost appears to be a masochist as she continues to return to Greenberg after he rejects or treats her disrespectfully. Similarly, Ivan tries very much to be his friend even after the estrangement caused by Greenberg’s previous detrimental actions. In the meantime, Greenberg tests his limits and relationships with everyone around him as if he’d rather be alienated because then his negative outlook of the world is validated. His trouble with living in the present drives many of his actions. However, his ever slow growth as a person is visually represented by the building progress on a reliable doghouse and his increasingly caring relationship with the family pet.

Stiller has been basking in the comedy realm for several years; however he established his serious acting chops in Permanent Midnight, in which he portrayed real-life comedy writer and addict Jerry Stahl. It’s nice to see he still has it. Stiller depicts Greenberg’s eccentricities and deadpan personality perfectly. Gerwig and Ifans appear sincerely self-deprecating as they continue to take Greenberg’s (not entirely intentional) abuse of their friendships, but each also brings various facets to their character’s personality.

Special features include: a behind-the-scenes featurette; “Greenberg loves Los Angeles”; and “Noah Baumbach takes a novel approach.”

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