Movies We Like
Roger Greenberg is a New Yorker in his 40s who has just gotten over some kind of vaguely alluded to nervous breakdown. He is offered his brother Phillip’s palatial house in L.A. to recuperate in while Phillip and his family are off in Vietnam on a work-related trip. Greenberg (as Stiller’s character is known) shows up after they leave and meets their personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), who agrees to get a drink with him. Their banter is suitably awkward. Greenberg often wears the expression of a trapped animal; his eyes dart around and he doesn’t so much engage in conversation as let you in on what one assumes is his constant, torturous inner monologue: a litany of complaints and contrarian opinions on every subject conceivable. Somehow this charms Florence or at least piques her curiosity. She’s a girl just out of college who is sleepwalking through young adulthood, a nice kid who doesn’t have her shit together and for whatever reason likes Greenberg. Greenberg, though, has a habit of letting people who care about him down. Whether it’s Florence or his former band mate, Ivan (Rhys Ifans), he can’t seem to move beyond his own baggage and he inevitably hurts the people closest to him. Misery, after all, loves company.
But Greenberg isn’t a total wet blanket. He’s actually really funny. If his ire isn’t directed at you it’s pretty amusing to hear him rant. And it’s telling that his friends are people who are much gentler than he is. Greenberg types can’t stand other Greenbergs. Not everyone is still charmed by him, though, and he strikes out when he tries to reconnect with an old flame (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who wisely sees the idea of getting back together with him for the big red flag that it is.
The film had me until the end when the future looks inexplicably promising for Greenberg and Florence. It’s a nice idea but I don’t think the redemption arc suits the character. Can Greenberg really change? Is it worth Florence sticking around to find out? He’s an interesting guy but he might be a phase one should realistically grow out of. Maybe that’s what’s so sad about him. Regardless, the film has many charms not least of which is the evocation of L.A. as a wonderland full of grime and beauty and absurdist touches like Gower Gulch and those inflatable stick men that whip around the used car lots of Hollywood. It’s another great film from Noah Baumbach even if it took two viewings to really appreciate.