Greenberg is the epitome of why you shouldn’t go to a movie because a critic said you should.
So I went in to work for a little bit yesterday (Sunday), and while I was there Kelley texted and asked me if I wanted to go see a movie. Sunday nights seem to be our default night for film going, and I was getting a lot done at work so I felt that a little treat was in order. I was excited to have something to look forward to. But then came the dread question “What did I want to see?” Because, you see? That’s the real trick, isn’t it? Me being the film fan that I am I had a whole Easter basket of movies that I have been wanting to see, and I was pretty sure that Kelley wouldn’t want to see most of them.
I was told that I was being ridiculous and that she would be willing to see just about anything. But those kinds of promises come with fine print of their own. The fine print clearly states that if the movie picker picks a movie that doesn’t live up to the other person’s standards they get to rag you about it for at least an hour after the credits have rolled. But that’s not all. Then they get to bring it up the next time you go to the movies, and it is then used to certify that said former picker is not qualified to be a picker of movies. Thus, said former picker winds up sitting through something like Sex and the City 2.
Needless to say, I made a list of movies that I thought were up to snuff and sent it on to her. Kick Ass was at or near the top of the list, but I knew that Kelley didn’t know anything about the film and probably wouldn’t want to go see it. So that was out. The Good, the Bad, the Weird was showing at the Alamo Drafhouse (and I really wanted to see it), but that didn’t quite pass muster either. Clash of the Titans got creamed on the fan boy blogs that I follow, and I wasn’t really feeling like sitting through 2 hours of mediocrity, so we passed on that too. How to Train Your Dragon, Greenberg, and Runaways were all on my list as well, and in keeping with my expectations Kelley jumped at Greenberg.
I bought the tickets online at work and we were set to go. Both of us admitted that we knew little to nothing of what the film was about, but I’d heard some great industry buzz about it, and we liked what we’d seen in the trailers so we were excited at our prospects of a good night at the movies.
Unfortunately, we were in for a bit of a disappointment.
Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is our title character. Fresh out of the “hospital” after some sort of mental breakdown, Greenberg has been invited to stay at his brother’s home in L.A. and keep an eye on things while the family is away in Viet Nam on vacation. Roger sets about contacting and catching up with his old friend and band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), but things are tense and awkward. Neither friend seems to be comfortable, and it’s clear there’s something old and frayed between them that never really got worked out. Greenberg soon meets and begins to become romantically (if you want to call it that) involved with Florence, Roger’s brother’s assistant. The trio (Roger, Ivan, and Florence) spend the rest of the movie circling each other in some sort of odd, totally uncoordinated interpretive dance that somehow never managed to make any sense.
First of all, Greenberg is a totally self absorbed asshole who, after two solid hours, proves to his friends and the audience that he has not one redeeming quality in his scrawny body, and not one decent thought in his drug and alcohol addled brain that doesn't somehow revolve around himself. Let me be clear about one thing though: I’m okay with a character being unlikeable. Characters definitely don’t have to be likeable to be interesting. Look at Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, The Terminator, Col. Hans “the Jew Hunter”Landa, and Michael Scott for instance. None of those characters are particularly good guys, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting as characters. Greenberg, on the other hand, is utterly devoid of any quality that would make him interesting to watch. He treats his friends terribly, uses Florence as a means to fill lonely spaces in his life, and then berates her because he’s too old to relate to her. I found myself caring more for the welfare of Roger’s brother’s dog Moller than for any of the other characters. That either says a lot about me, or a lot about the movie. Or perhaps a little of both.
Greenberg the movie did have a few saving graces, though. Thank God. And luckily the cost of our tickets wasn’t completely wasted. The film did make us laugh several times, but not as many times or in all the places where the film makers thought we would laugh. The acting is outstanding. Ben Stiller proves that he really can act despite how much we hated his character. Newcomer Greta Gerwig also gave an outstanding performance as the numb and bland Florence.
But for all of that, the film was still not very good. And slightly awkward at times. And not at all in a good way. It seems that there are a few filmmakers who insist on making movies about the bland, hollow Hollywood culture, and infusing them with a bunch of in-jokes that no one outside of the people who actually live and work in that industry would actually get or care about. Another film we saw recently, Shrink, had the same problems. These films seem hell bent on pushing their glitzy, morally bankrupt way of life in our faces as though the desolation of it all is enough to make the audience care. Sorry. It ain’t workin’ for me.
So, to summarize: Stiller, Ifans (I loved Rhys Ifans) , and Gerwig’s performances? Great. The story, pacing, and editing of the film? Not so good. And in some cases, downright bad.
My dad always says that if a movie entertains him for a few hours, then it served its purpose. And in that sense, I suppose Greenberg filled the bill. But if you’re hoping for something more, you might be disappointed.