Review: Greenberg (2010)

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans

Getting old is never easy, and not just because your body begins to fail you in ways you never thought possible. In Roger Greenberg’s case, he just never managed to grow up in the first place. Having recently suffered through a nervous breakdown and subsequently a brief stint at a mental hospital, it’s safe to say a lifestyle change for Greenberg is in order, no matter how set in his ways he appears to be. Unfortunately, herein lies the following question: Is it too late to change for the better at 40?

As the film progresses, Baumbach constantly points back to Greenberg’s inability to live in the present, i.e. the reason behind why he’s essentially alienated just about everyone he ever had any sort of connection with. In fact, Stiller’s character and his behavior are generally so off-putting that some have shunned the film as a whole based on this detail alone. I, on the other hand, wasn’t bothered by it in the slightest, seeing as how it ends up succeeding so well in chronicling Greenberg’s struggle to finally become a better person through the countless tiffs he has with his sole friend Ivan and current love interest, Florence. It’s through these quarrels that we’re offered some extremely valuable insight into the mind of our central character, allowing one to potentially sympathize with Greenberg while realizing just how hard it is for him to actually change.

The narrative as a whole remains thoughtful in this regard, and coupled with Stiller’s surprisingly believable performance, manages to shine through as one of the year’s best. Co-stars Gerwig and Ifans also bring their A-game, exhibiting ample chemistry with our male lead and generating a light chuckle here and there while Baumbach’s direction ensures their characters remain the perfect solution to Greenberg’s worsening dilemma. Add a subtle, satisfying latter act to the mix, and you have yourselves one well-rounded piece of cinema.

When it comes down to brass tacks, Greenberg is more or less a return to form for writer/director Baumbach following his lukewarm Margot at the Wedding. It’s a thoughtful, emotionally honest account of what it’s like for some people to hit that proverbial hump they just can’t get over by themselves, as well as a well-acted and generally satisfying means of portraying said conflict. Greenberg himself may prove to be too much to handle at times, but through his behavior lies the key to his salvation and your potential appreciation for what Baumbach has to offer here.

Rating: 8/10

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