by Erin Thursby
Greenberg, set to play exclusively at the 5 Points Theatre from May 14th to May 27th, is a movie that showcases Ben Stiller’s talent for walking the line between awkward and funny.
The movie doesn’t open with its titular character. Instead we follow Florence (Greta Gerwig) as she plays personal assistant and all-round errand-girl to a wealthy family. We learn that the family is going on vacation to Vietnam, and while they’re gone, Roger Greenberg (Stiller) will be house sitting/recuperating from a stay at a mental hospital. His brother and his family (who he’s house sitting for) are successful, even as they come off as a trifle shallow.
A lot of the movie is like watching a social train wreck. You want to look away, but it’s far, far too interesting. You feel a little mean for laughing, perhaps, but Greenberg isn’t incredibly sympathetic. He’s relatable, yes, but he’s also a self-absorbed douche bag. And frankly, that’s funny. I’ve got to applaud Stiller for that. A lovable misanthrope that we don’t love so much that we can’t laugh at him, and who also doesn’t come off as smarmy, is a hard role to inhabit.
He spends his time “trying to do nothing” as he reconnects with friends he had in his twenties. Friends who now have kids when he doesn’t. At the same time he forms a truer connection with his brother’s personal assistant, Florence. Who is, as he’s hyper-aware, far too young for him.
Movies laden with talking sometimes over-explain themselves. Even though Greenberg himself talks too much, they’ve chosen the right stuff for him to talk about and the right stuff for him to avoid. There’s silence to mark things. Greenberg’s fears and anxieties are best when they’re shown, and most of the time they are. While this movie is about fear, it’s also very funny, but it’s not so tangled up in one-liners that it loses its graceless-but-still-charming soul.
In some ways, Greenberg is like a coming of age movie. Since we seem to grow up later and later, it’s fitting. It’s about looking around at all our friends and realizing that our life is nothing like theirs. That we will never catch up, but at the same time we just aren’t twenty anymore.
It is a movie that will make you think. I’m still thinking about the scene when Florence talks about pretending to be these slutty girls at a bar and then actually BEING those slutty girls before running away to be themselves. At face value, it’s just a stupid story. But taken in context with the movie, it’s made me think about the roles we try on and discard because they don’t quite fit.
Pacing is slow, deliberate. You might feel as though the director is actively trying to bore you. It made me happy because I’m used to reading books. Films don’t often take their time with characters. But in Greenberg you get to know them. Not in the glamorous moments, not in their worst moments, but in the mundane moments.
GREENBERG movie review
by Erin Thursby