Genre: Independent Drama
Premise: Recently released from the nuthouse, Roger Greenberg moves into his vacationing brother’s home, where he befriends the nanny, who’s 15 years younger than him.
About: From the writer/director of The Squid And The Whale and Margot at The Wedding comes “Greenberg,” Noah Baumbach’s latest film.
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Oh boy. A Noah Baumbach script. Welcome to Depression-ville. I will admit that The Squid And The Whale displayed a writer/director with a unique voice. But Margot at The Wedding was so relentlessly depressing and cruel, I wanted to crawl up in a ball and weep for a fortnight afterward. Not exactly the feeling I like to have when I’m leaving the theater. For this reason, Greenburg wasn’t on my radar. I figured I’d catch it on a bored Tuesday night as a $1 kiosk rental while I spent the majority of my attention scouring useless entertainment and sports blogs (does anybody get their info from traditional websites anymore?)
But this trailer changed all that. I don’t know what the rapidly changing litmus test says about Ben Stiller these days, but I still love him. He’s the only comedian who’s “sold out” yet still maintains the ability to be funny in those sanitized PG-13 family roles. Stiller is actually just what a Noah Baumbach movie needs. Someone who can handle the weightier stuff, but who carries that “It’s all going to be okay in the end” demeanor. The man doesn’t take life too seriously. And that mixes well with a writer/director who obviously does.
Well, I’m happy to report that not much has changed in Baumbach’s sixth film. “Greenberg” is a slow, depressing, sometimes cruel, frustrating, cynical and awkward look at a relationship that never stood a chance from the word ‘go.’ Florence is a 25 year old nanny/housesitter whose wealthy Los Angeles clients are spending a couple of weeks vacationing in Vietnam. Roger, the indie-freely “recently got out of the nuthouse” brother of the family, is going to be staying at the home while the family’s away. This opens up the door for Roger and Florence to have a totally unhealthy and ill-advised relationship. Needless to say, if there were an Awkward Relationships Olympics, anything that Noah Baumbach writes would medal. But Greenberg definitely takes the gold. For example, besides the numerous disastrous attempts at oral sex that occur (seemingly every ten pages or so), we must endure the painstaking trainwreck of conversations that happen afterwards in high-definition detail.
The relationship actually follows the “guy not ready for commitment” model but does so in the ultra demented Baumbachian universe. Greenberg’s issue is that he doesn’t want to do anything. He just wants to live a normal unattached existence. The problem is, he gets bored quickly, and therefore ends up hanging out with people he doesn’t want to be hanging out with. When things don’t go well, which is always, he bitches to them about being in his life, as his plan is to not be doing anything. Does that make sense to you? Yeah, not me either really. The biggest victim of this compulsive waffling is Florence, who is so vague in her own approach to life, that the two spend the majority of the script dancing around every possible definitive statement in the history of language.
Along the way, the family dog gets sick and the two are roped into keeping the poor pooch alive, at least until the family gets back. Greenberg also ends up connecting with old friends in sort of a “10 years later” version of Garden State. His good buddy Ivan is going through a divorce and Greenberg stammers his way through his version of support. There’s also a backstory about Greenberg being in a band with Ivan and another friend that went south during a sketchy record deal. The still unhealed wounds leave a black cloud over most of their interactions. Since Florence is also a singer, Greenberg starts to get the bug again, and at the ripe old age of 41, wonders if he shouldn’t be giving that old singing career one more try. But if you’re looking for a feel-good comeback story, I don’t think I have to remind you that you’re watching a Noah Baumbach movie.
The toughest thing about a Noah Baumbach piece is that he writes from a place of such deep hatred for the world, of its conventions, its standards, its idiosyncrasies, that unless you harbor that exact same outlook, the script feels more like a blunt object repeatedly smashing against your head than an eye-opening observational piece that reaffirms your beliefs. If Baumbach could balance this hatred out with some more humor, I feel like he could really broaden his audience. I mean even though Larry David writes in a different genre, he writes from that same place as Baumbach. The difference is, he has fun with it. When I put down this script, I felt like I’d been through a 24 hour screaming match with one of my best friends. It was too much for me.
One final note. I really really like this actress Greta Gerwig, who plays the role of Florence, and I think she’s going to blow up soon. She brings something totally unique to the table, unlike anything I’ve seen from any other actress. I’ll be seeing this movie to see her.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Noah Baumbach doesn’t follow any conventional screenwriting practices whatsoever. As a result, you get sort of an awkward strange unfocused story. If that’s where your love of writing lies, then by all means embrace it. However, I will make a promise to you. You will never sell one of these types of scripts if you’re an unsold screenwriter. What Baumbach brings to the table is that he’s also a director, which means the script is more of a package than a standalone screenplay. If you’re going to write this kind of script, I strongly recommend that you plan to direct it yourself. It’s really the only way these kinds of screenplays get made.