A man from Los Angeles, who moved to New York years ago, returns to L.A. to figure out his life while he house-sits for his brother.
The latest offering from Academy Award-nominated director and writer Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Margot At The Wedding), Greenberg follows in a similar vein to his earlier outings, offering strained family relationships, long-simmering resentments and playful indie charm.
Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, who, after recently recovering from a mental breakdown, decides to escape New York for six weeks to take a break at his brother’s L.A home. His brother and wife are away, but their personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), is present, and the two – both lost and ungrounded souls – find themselves drawn to one another. At the same time, the 40-year-old Greenberg tries to rebuild connections with former L.A friends, having earlier managed to sabotage a fledgling career in a rock band in his mid-20s – the same age at which Florence now finds herself at a crossroads in her life. Unfortunately, as Florence has recently come out of a long-term relationship, and Greenberg is still nursing his own delicate mental health – and is prone to angry outburts – the course of true love runs anything but smoothly; if, indeed, it’s actually running anywhere at all.
Writer-director Baumbach has crafted another whimsical and thought-provoking piece of work, which this time dwells upon ageing, depression and regret. Greenberg, aided by a perfectly nuanced performance by Stiller, comes across as a genuinely troubled soul, if not a difficult and challenging personality. In short, most of his friends secretly think he’s a bit of a jackass… and Florence herself is plagued by doubts over whether a relationship with the hard-drinking, tic-prone man-child is truly worth the effort. Just as interesting is Greenberg’s relationship with former bandmate, Ivan (a subtle performance from Britain’s own Rhys Ifans). The former best friends both want to rekindle something of their old relationship, but each hold some resentments that need to be aired. Newcomer Gerwig comfortably holds her own among the more experienced talent and marks herself out as an actress to watch.
On the downside, as a cinematic outing, Greenberg is a slow-paced, navel-gazing piece of work that doesn’t comfortably work as a comedy, drama or love story. With the exception of Ifans’ Ivan, it’s difficult to root for any of the characters – with Florence being a little too dippy and Greenberg too riddled with anger to prompt much empathy. In fact, he’s portrayed as such a pain that it’s difficult to believe why anyone would still make any effort with him whatsoever. Few audiences will have the patience.