PLOT: Florence Marr is a lonely young woman, she spends most of her time catering to Phillip Greenberg, whom she works for as a personal assistant. When he and his family go on vacation, he advises Flo that his brother Roger will be staying at their home. Flo soon finds that Roger is not your average guy. After spending time in a mental institution in New York, he seems to be looking for a little bit of sanity. After the two begin seeing each other, they find that they both may be much too damaged to find comfort in each others lives.
Greta Gerwig is Florence Marr. She is a personal assistant to Phillip Greenberg (Chris Messina). She knows his family, helps take care of his dog and is seemingly an important part of the Greenberg‘s life. But when it comes to her personal life, it seems that she is lost. While occasionally she’ll meet a guy at a bar and attempt a one night stand, she is drifting through her own personal crisis. She is alone, although she is not the only one lost. When the Greenberg’s go off to Vietnam for a family vacation of sorts, Phillip tells her that his brother Roger will be staying at the house. And everything that is wrong with Flo, multiply that by twenty and you have Roger. The two somehow connect, even though it is never easy for them. After all, he just spent time in a mental institution in New York. But in spite of that, she finds him to be interesting and he seems to find her quite intriguing also.
As the two spend more time together, they find themselves opening up to each other, which is not always a good thing. Roger is hurtful and selfish to her, as he has been to those in his own circle of friends. At one point, she tells him a strange a story of something that happened to her. Expecting him to laugh a little bit, he vehemently tells her that her story is stupid. He is clearly disgusted by her and her story, so much so that he leaves. This is a messy relationship clearly. At one point Flo shares a little insight, telling him that “hurt people hurt people…’ and in Greenberg, much like real life, they do. This May - December romance is almost an anti-romance. While all relationships take work, these two people are so lost in their own complicated worlds, that it is a wonder they would find each other at all. He spends his time writing letters of complaint to whatever company he has a issues with. She barely squeaks by in life afraid of what others might think, desperate for acceptance.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach continues in creating his deep rooted dramatic comedies filled with nuance and oddities. Greenberg is certainly one of them. In fact, my biggest problem came with this curiously structured tale. The beginning of the film focuses on Flo and her involvement with Roger begins to bloom a bit later. But once he is introduced, there is a shift, and he is suddenly the focal point. We meet his friends, including the very talented Rhys Ifans as his very best mate. We also find that an old acquaintance he had, a lovely lass named Beth (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who also shares story credit), and he is thrilled to discover that she is newly single. As much as I enjoy seeing Jennifer, who is one of the most criminally underrated actresses out there, the entire arch between her and Roger seemed fairly pointless. Everything that happened here could’ve been filled with a line here or there explaining “Beth“ and his other failed relationships. The film truly shines when it is Roger and Flo in the forefront. This is a quirky and sometimes very sad relationship, but there is something really quite sympathetic and beautiful underneath it all.
Ben Stiller as Greenberg gives what is probably one of the most challenging performances of his career. He sinks into self misery and self importance and treats those around him poorly, because he himself feels empty. I really liked what Ben did. Besides the fact, this is not your typical leading man role for many reasons, mostly because he is sometimes hateful. But as brave as this performance is, it is Greta Gerwig that is truly the beating heart here. Her Florence is a deeply wounded woman who is easily taken advantage of. She finds herself doing for others while ignoring what is best for her. While it would’ve been easy to dismiss this character, there is something so charming about Greta. She is the shining star in Greenberg. From her sometimes painful encounters with Roger, to her simply hoping that another driver will let her into the next lane, she is instantly likable. Yes both characters are flawed and lost, but the beauty is in the honesty that they offer as this mismatched couple.
Before the screening, I had two people express their disappointment in Greenberg. The words slow and meandering came to mind. But this is Noah Baumbach, and while I did think the editing could have been a little tighter, and the focus should’ve remained on the films leads, it is a sweet film. I loved the dialogue and the relationship between most of the characters. I especially liked Chris Messina as he constantly expressed doubt while talking to Roger on the phone. His cold and disapproving attitude towards his brother is heartbreaking. While you can’t blame him, it is sad that Roger seems to have spent his entire life not living up to what anybody wanted for him, including himself. I recommend Greenberg, but it is a movie that you need to stick with, and let its story be told in its entirety. My rating 7/10 -- JimmyO
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