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Persona

Greenberg (2010)

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Links to Kicking and Screaming (1995), The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Margot at the Wedding (2007), which Baumbach directed, and to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The Emperor's Children (in development), which he (co-)wrote, and Mr. Popper's Penguins, which is in pre-production, planning for Baumbach to again direct Stiller.

I'm clearing my schedule to get to a double-feature Monday Tuesday -- Chloe and Greenberg.

Greenberg's trailer makes it look like a dry, quirky comedic character study that shouldn't be passed up if you have the chance:


Looks like a relaxing, perhaps somewhat reflective, decent-feeling night at the movies.

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I haven't watched the trailer yet, but FWIW, the Stiller character can be a real jerk at times, and although it's made pretty clear from the outset that he has mental-health problems, it doesn't necessarily make being in his presence any easier.

Which is not to say that people should AVOID the film because its protagonist can be a real jerk at times. I'm actually hoping that more people here will see it so that we can talk about it.

FWIW, I am very impressed with Rhys Ifans' performance as Stiller's long-suffering friend, and I think the note on which the movie ends is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Without getting into spoilers here -- I shall be vague -- the movie finds a very efficient and compact way to highlight one of its key themes, which is the relationship between the past and the present, and how people who can be so appealing one second can be so unappealing the next. The last scene is so good, I would say, that it makes me want to watch the movie again just so I can pay more attention to one of the earlier scenes.

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I hate to be predictable, I was willing to give Baumbach the benefit of the doubt. He and I are just not seeing eye to eye.

From Filmsweep:

I get Greenberg. I just don't see why it needs to exist as a film or any other work of "art," or why anyone should bother to care.

I get that we have a man returning and readjusting to life in LA after decades of being away. I get that he's now a walker, he no longer drives, he's probably used to taking the subway in NYC. I get that he can't handle water but he's back in a sunshiny land stuffed with swimming pools. I get the comedic touches about his social inadequacy, his recent trip to the "hospital," his mental instability, his quirky outbursts. I get that he's frigid toward the world, locked into himself even as his selfishness creates bad conversations and sex. I get that he can't laugh at himself and I get that it's all part of the joke. His quibbles, the fact that he writes letter after complaining letter to corporate empires around the globe lamenting their methods and service, when in fact he can't even cop to all the shortcomings

he has --

I get it.

And finally, I get the film's mantra, which beats itself relentlessly into one's skull: "Hurt people hurt people." Fine. We get it. How clever. How trite. How vacuous. How true. Whatever.

Mantra or not, black comedy or not, chuckle or no chuckle, this Greenberg guy is just a jerk. That it's Ben Stiller's finest performance offers very little consolation. There's no reason for the story to be a film just as there's no reason for anyone to watch it, or for me to ever visit it again. It's characters are like giant holes walking a nameless and faceless earth. They are holes, which suck everything into them, remaining giant, gaping and empty. The narrative sucks, too. It sucks into the hole of itself like a "dialogue-ian" vacuum cleaner. There is no hope for any character. No hope, no progress, no redemption, no future. No spirituality or longing for even humanistic improvement. Nada. There is nothing here. And Ben Stiller as Greenberg only finds enlightenment and a clearer form of thinking by accidentally crashing a party (which happens in his home) and tripping and getting wasted with a bunch of kids. Oh, gee, Wally, thanks for the enlightenment.

Anyone who buys into any of this is like a duped gull buying swampland in Florida.

Can you imagine a hole that stands and walks around invisibly but constantly sucks in other things no matter where it goes? Can you imagine it sucking in conversations and good intentions and cordial sociability and kind words, and sucking in sex and alcohol and drugs and regret, but the hole never spits anything back out? Not even vomit -- this Hole spits nothing? Can you imagine being this Hole and actually trying to perceive peace or truth, or, I don't know, a feeling of some kind of newness about the fact that it will always be and remain a giant gaping Hole?

Baumbach is proving to simply be "not my guy to watch". His films are relentlessly boring as he pursues these "real life" characters who are cardboard cutout flats without shine, but only dull with spot and wrinkle. His characters are afraid of confronting any of their own negativity, admitting any of their own fragility, and more importantly, admitting to another their apologies for wrong action. His characters are afraid of change, healing, redemption, or any other reason we might have to want to watch them in a movie. Quite frankly, if his characters came to life and happened along my path and befriended me, I would quickly grow weary of them and for my own sake I'd need to cut them loose. There are certain bridges that you burn so as to not get sucked into the hole. The characters would complain that their friend "dropped them like a rock." The characters wouldn't realize how much life they continually suck out of everyone else.

Greenberg's girlfriend in the film is Florence, and should she decide to stay with this miserable wretch, the world for her really is as dreary as it is dank.

Edited by Persona

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I wasn't planning on seeing Greenberg at the theater, but I'm having second thoughts after reading this rave review:

Greenberg, which shares with The Squid and the Whale a wholly original satirical contempt for exactly the sort of pretentiousness one has come to expect from American independent film, is a brilliant and many-layered piece of work. But for many (probably most) people, this unvarnished portrait of a 40-year-old loser/narcissist and an affectless 26-year-old girl whom he repeatedly takes up and discards will be the cinematic equivalent of listening to a fingernail dragging on a chalkboard for 90 minutes. ...

Greenberg is not in any way a misanthropic film; rather, it is an unsentimental critical portrait of a certain type of misanthrope. As such, it is close to flawless. But the movie might, like Greenberg himself, be a little too full of its own integrity.

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From A.O. Scott's article on the Gen-X mid-life crisis:

The biggest contradiction may be: How can a generation whose cultural trademark is a refusal to grow up have a midlife crisis? It is a shock to see Mr. Stiller, in “Greenberg,” playing the older guy, just as it is an affront to Roger Greenberg himself to be the older guy. Returning home to Los Angeles after more than a decade in New York, Roger seems ludicrously and tragically confined in his own youth. He seeks out old friends and can’t quite accept that they’ve moved on, acquiring kids, spouses, ex-spouses, ordinary jobs and specific miseries that stand in notable contrast to Roger’s systemic resentment. “Youth is wasted on the young,” says Roger’s old friend Ivan. “I’d go further,” says Roger. “I’d go: Life is wasted on people.”

The sense that his life has been wasted — stalled by mysterious external forces rather than his own failure of will — makes Roger a representative figure, an epitome of loserdom instead of just another run-of-the-mill loser. It should go without saying that a generation is a demographic fiction, and that a stage of life is something of a literary conceit. But certain characters and narratives nonetheless draw together confused and disparate experiences in a way that feels almost instantly emblematic. Think of Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” or Sarah Jessica Parker in the first seasons of “Sex and the City.”

When markedly similar characters and stories start popping up everywhere, it’s more than a trend. It’s what those of us raised on vintage postmodernism call a historical phenomenon. So an intertextual analysis of “Greenberg,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “The Ask” (for starters) yields a startling composite portrait of the Gen X male in midlife crisis. . . .

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Wow, a rare day here where Persona and I agree almost exactly about a movie.

Now I want to be convinced about what I missed. What makes Roger Greenberg's story worth telling. It's not that I don't like watching movies about "bad" people, but as the film went on the earlier glimmers of interest turned to a loathing of every painful situation.

Greta Gerwig is great in her role. As damaged as Florence is, I felt something there was worth pursuing as a narrative. As Persona says, should she continue on the path she is on I don't think I can handle watching that film. Oh, and Rhys Ifans was good in his small role too.

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