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USA 2010
Directed by
Noah Baumbach
107 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Emma Flanagan
3 stars


Synopsis: Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is a 40 year old lost soul, who has drifted some time ago to New York where he works as a carpenter. His brother asks him to come out to Los Angeles and housesit for six weeks. Roger plans to maybe catch up with long-lost friends, but mostly he intends to do nothing. His path crosses with that of 25 year old Florence (Greta Gerwig) as she cares for the Greenberg family dog, Mahler. She is likewise a lonely soul, drifting along in an undemanding job, despite finishing college three years earlier. If their meeting seems predestined, how Roger and Florence’s relationship develops is not

After the impressive The Squid and the Whale (2005) with the fabulous Laura Linney, I was very much looking forward to seeing how Baumbach deals with another person, here played by Ben Stiller, suffering a mid-life crisis.

There’s much to like about Greenberg. The casting is spot-on, it looks good, and there’s some great accompanying music, both contemporary and of the 1980s. The ever-watchable Stiller is perfect as the man who has just been discharged from hospital after an unspecified mental breakdown who just wants to spend some time “doing nothing".

Unfortunately, the “doing nothing” is at the core of why I could not get into this film. While a character who decides to be inactive is fine in a novel, where the character’s internal thoughts can be examined at length, it makes for very limited film viewing, because there’s a lack of “motion” in the “motion picture".

The source and results of Greenberg’s problems are best revealed by his interaction with former close friends, who include his ex-best friend, Ivan (the reliable Rhys Ifans). Greenberg also starts a tentative relationship with Florence, which starts off poorly and splutters along fitfully like a poorly-maintained car. Inability to connect with other people is the one thing the couple have in common. Unfortunately, this pair is just not as interesting as that in The Squid and the Whale where the main character is at least trying to do something to overcome his problems, albeit in a dysfunctional way.

There are moments of humour in Greenberg, but there are a very few laugh-out-loud ones. When a bunch of 20 year olds invades the house, Greenberg is torn between looking after the house like a responsible adult, or doing drugs with people half his age. Whilst Stiller is aptly restrained in his performance it should have been a short and snappy fish-out-of-water episode but instead goes on way too long with the humour so diluted that barely a chuckle can be raised.

Greenberg has his moment of truth – several, in fact – but it takes too long to get to the pivotal point where he works out just how he has arrived at this place in time with so many disappointments. I also thought that the film should have focused more on the eponymous Greenberg. However from the opening scene sequence it looked like Florence was the focus, and whilst their relationship could have been an appealing symbiosis, too much time is spent on the character who is less interesting, something which slowed the whole story down.

Greenberg needed to be shorter in script, tighter in editing, and played quicker than Baumbach has allowed it to be.




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