Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review - Greenberg

Recovering from a recent breakdown, Roger Greenberg house and dog sits for his brother. Roger uses this time to assess where he's going with his life. Taking into consideration whether or not he wants to relocate from New York to Los Angeles while also trying to reconnect with old friends. In the meantime, Roger sparks up a peculiar romantic relationship with his brother's assistant, Florence.

Very rarely does a romantic comedy come along that I fall in love with. More times than not, this genre of film tends to overtly disappoint me. It's a genre of film I tend to nit-pic with a heavy hand and rarely do I walk away from happy.

I have grown all too tired of the same generic rom-com's regurgitated over and over with ultimately only titles to tell them apart. It goes something like this; Guy meets Girl, Guy loses Girl, Guy fights to get Girl back. We've seen them a hundred times. Studios nab two recognizable names. They're thrown together, put into a few funny situations and poof, you've got a rom-com. Obviously I am generalizing, but the point I am getting to (ever-so-slowly) is, "Greenberg" finally delivers a romantic dramedy I truly enjoyed. The 107 minute film does fall into the all too typical relationship rubric that is routinely outlined in nearly every rom-com out there, however it does so in tremendous form.

Part of what makes "Greenberg" so enjoyable is its superb characters. Scripted by Noah Baumbach (who also directed) off a story created by actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, the film centers on two engaging and eccentric characters, Roger and Florence. Going into the movie, I thought "Greenberg" would firmly rest on Ben Stillers' character Roger, when in fact it teeters between both his and Greta Gerwig's character Florence. Baumbach's script almost leads the viewer to believe that Gerwig is the main character, until Stiller takes a far more predominant role in the dramedy. The evolution or character development of these two characters and their relationship make the film a joy to sit through. Not to mention a hilarious one.

Baumbach's script is brilliant. It is filled to the brim with wit and hysterical cynicism. Not only is it overflowing with charm, the characters are well written and delightfully fleshed out. After seeing the film, there definitely is food for thought to the notion that Noah Baumbach wrote the screenplay with Ben Stiller in mind. Because actor Ben Stiller nails his portrayal. One of his most serious performances to date, Stiller grabs the viewer's attention and doesn't let go. This is not to say that Stiller doesn't provide a bunch of laughs, because he does. However seeing him back in a more thoughtful role was a nice surprise considering his last was way back in 2001.

A ton of credit must be given to Greta Gerwig for her meaningful performance as Florence Marr. Screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach wrote an intriguing character, but Gerwig filled her with a tenacity and fire that is sure to get the actress some notice. Gerwig furthermore, wiped away any and all reservations I had going into "Greenberg" that she may struggle carrying such a substantial role. Her scenes with Ben Stiller are awkward and adorable, pressing the viewer further in their odd relationship.

Baumbach does a stellar job of not only penning compelling main characters, but his supporting characters are just as satisfying. Especially Ivan Schrank played by Rhys Ifans. Ifans like Stiller and Gerwig, is enjoyable throughout. His scenes shared with Stiller are polished. The two of them play wonderfully off each other, especially when Ivan is trying to defuse Roger's more eccentric character traits.

What I found the most compelling throughout "Greenberg" is the amount of sincere heart displayed. The film digs through Roger's emotional spectrum as well as the lives he affects. Roger is a utter prick, and at times, his actions can be very alarming. He writes off these tantrums, only to later realize the weight and harm they cause. The progression that Roger goes through as he begins to see these faults is once again, completely engaging.

Growing up and living in Southern California I thoroughly enjoyed the local vibe in "Greenberg." The locations selected combined with the cinematography really came together seamlessly to make a contemporary L.A. based film. Just as Noah Baumbach made a New York based film in The Squid and the Whale, "Greenberg" is aptly Los Angeles. The soundtrack, while not being all that L.A., does a fabulous job of keeping the slow paced momentum flowing.

In the end, "Greenberg" is a new favorite of mine. I have been a big fan of Noah Baumbach's work since his 1995 film Kicking and Screaming, and it was a relief to see him return to form after stumbling with his last directorial effort Margot at the Wedding. The dramedy doesn't necessarily break the mold of generic romantic comedies, instead it presents two fantastic characters played by two phenomenal performers in a heartfelt and laugh-out-loud story.