- Walking-rug Robin Williams, rubber-chinned Jim Carrey and man-child Adam Sandler are just a few modern funny people who’ve aced going straight. But chimp-faced Ben Stiller has mostly been happy to play the fool. Until now.
Staring out of gaunt eye-sockets and sporting big hair that (tellingly) he really should have cut by now, Stiller effortlessly nails the horrid selfishness and neurosis of Roger Greenberg, a fortysomething failed musician who’s housesitting for his successful brother after a stint in a mental hospital.
Self-involved and prickly as hell, Greenberg is “trying to do nothing for a while”. He reconnects with old friends (Rhys Ifans, excellent) he’s spent years alienating. He writes pedantic complaint letters to Starbucks, airlines, The LA Times... but doesn’t send them. He builds a doghouse. Life goes on – without him.
Like his breakout The Squid And The Whale (husband vs wife) and Margot At The Wedding (sister vs sister), writer/director Baumbach’s sixth movie deals with how “hurt people hurt people”, as quipped by Florence (indie starlet Greta Gerwig), the vague 25-year-old who’s looking after the house and the family dog. Her non-relationship with Roger starts with her meek acceptance of his abrupt lunge at her.
It continues as a series of awkward, compulsive little encounters. Wandering along a series of anti-climaxes in an empty LA, shot by Zodiac’s master DoP Harris Savides, the movie touchingly, subtly mirrors Roger and Florence: adrift in their own lives, him too closed, her too open.
Baumbach’s loose screenplay hits its prickly peak at a houseparty. As Stiller’s Gen X loser finds his lodgings taken over by twentysomething hipsters with no worries and lots of cocaine, he hisses: “I hope I die before I end up meeting any of you in a job interview.”
Self-conscious, sad, funny, awkward, small, mean... Greenberg the movie is like Greenberg the man: not much fun to hang out with but hard to forget.
Everybody hurts, all the time, as Ben Stiller aces his dramatic turn in another witty, discomforting comedy drama from Baumbach. No happy endings here, but a climactic note of hope feels hard-earned.
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