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  Greenberg Alien In L.A.
Year: 2010
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Duplass, Merritt Wever, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Juno Temple, Susan Traylor, Jake Paltrow, Dave Franco, Max Hoffman
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig) works as a nanny in Los Angeles, though she actually has ambitions to be a singer, and those plans are not going too well. She hasn't made much progress in life since college, and with her thirties approaching she feels directionless, but the kids love her, it's a happy household, and if she's just split up with her long term boyfriend then at least that gives her the excuse for a one night stand of meaningless sex, right? The Greenberg family is who she works for, and the father of the house Phillip (Chris Messina) has a brother who has recently been released from a mental hospital after a breakdown, so while the family are holidaying in Vietnam for six weeks, brother Roger (Ben Stiller) is invited over to look after the place and the dog...

Greenberg, the film, split audiences right down the middle, either you recognised the humour in the titular character's harassed demeanour, or you could not stand to be watching a story with him featured for almost two hours and could not understand why anyone else would want to either. It was the brainchild of then-husband and wife team of director Noah Baumbach and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (taking a role as Greenberg's long lost ex) who collaborated on the script. That Baumbach then left his wife for his star here, Greta Gerwig, we shall gloss over, as more interesting was the way that many noticed the Florence character resembled the Stacy character Leigh had played in her breakthrough role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

To say more would constitute spoilers, though this was a movie where interplay and conversation was more important than whatever the plot was doing, which wasn't a tremendous amount aside from getting people in the same room and up against Greenberg's dark moods. How far you warmed to him would depend on how far you sympathised with a personality that, no matter what he does or says, manages to hurt, offend or otherwise place in a difficult position anyone he is talking to, and that frustration was at the heart of his persona. Then again, you could simply find it funny that he is so poor with his social graces that his inappropriate comments and flying off of handles that leads to such situations.

Stiller eschewed the sillier aspects that he could easily have fallen back on for a more rounded, less caricatured performance than his usual comedy stylings, and it was to the film's benefit that he did, with a sense he had truly gotten under the skin of Roger, inhabiting him in his frustrations, and frustrations with those frustrations, to often laugh out loud degrees. His possibly temporary relocation from New York to L.A. exacerbates his feelings of not fitting in anywhere, making him more prone to ill-advised snapping. It wasn't only Florence he has to negotiate his way around, but old friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans), an old bandmate who we can tell enjoys his company more for the nostalgia for the times when they had the promise to make it in the music industry, and less because of the fact that Roger messed up their sole real chance at that potential success.

They are really only hanging out because of their shared past, but Ivan has moved on in life and has a young family while Roger, if not exactly suffering arrested development, really has nowhere to move on to, be that because of his illness or his general mishandling of whatever opportunities come his way. There's a curious send up of that mindset near the end when he is invited on the spur of the moment to head off for Australia with Brie Larson and Juno Temple; a younger man would have jumped at the chance, but Greenberg just has too much baggage. That’s why it's painful when he sabotages his relationship with Florence, nascent as that is, leaving only the dog's medical issues what they can bond over. This stumbling towards a truce, that Roger has his anger and negativity, and Florence has her dizziness and disorganisation, ends up being quite touching as the film believes magnanimously that everyone deserves their shot at happiness, even the absolute fuck-ups of this world. Whether they can get over themselves to get at it is another matter. Music by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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