Ben Stiller takes a more dramatic turn this week in the dark comedy Greenberg, from the master of misanthropy, Noah Baumbach. Of course, comedy is only a loose term here as there really isn’t anything funny about this film, nor is there anything that one might consider entertaining, or enlightening, or, well, watchable.

Check out the full review below to find out why…

The Players:

The Plot:

New Yorker Roger Greenberg (Stiller) has just got out of a mental home following a nervous breakdown and housesits for his brother in Los Angeles. While there, Greenberg embarks on a strange romance with his brother’s personal assistant, Florence (Gerwig) and attempts to reconcile with some old friends he left in the lurch many years prior.

The Good:

  • The Deftly Written Dialogue: Baumbach doesn’t demonstrate any grasp on how to write a story in this film, but the dialogue is sharp and crisp and creates a no-brainer speech pattern for each character. Really, that’s about the only thing positive from a creative standpoint with this film. Never a good sign.
  • Solid Performances: There’s nothing bad about the performances here.  In fact, they are actually somewhat remarkable given how little the cast has available in terms of character definition. In particular, Rhys Ifans stands out as a sullen ex-bandmate of Greenberg who’s dealing with a trial seperation. Solid performances all around, but the cast isn’t given enough by the script to make them great.

The Bad:

  • The Lack of a Story: Films don’t need to have a plot – What’s the plot of Do The Right Thing? What’s the plot of Mulholland Drive? – But it is required that they have some sort of a reason why the film progresses in the way it does. Some sort of an emotional arc at the absolute least.
    Greenberg
    does not have that arc. It simply sits in a circle of underwhelming stasis as its main characters exhibits some strange bit of mock rage that’s never expanded upon. At the film’s end we’re left at exactly the point where we started. There’s nothing wrong with taking a journey that concludes at its starting point, but this film never takes that journey, it simply dances around the same moment.
  • The Lack of Definition of the Characters: The titular character of Greenberg seems to have no reason to be the way he is. And what he is, is not that interesting at all. Basically, he’s somebody who’s just a bit irritated at a lot of situations. It’s not comedic, it’s not profound, it’s just sort of whiny and aggravating. Plus, we’re never given a reason for why Greenberg is the way he is – there’s a lame plot point involving an old band – but that is so long ago in the past and presented as so inconsequential that it works as nothing more than plot-forwarding excuse rather than a significant moment in the character’s life. With a character piece like this, intense examination of the lead is required to make the film really work. Here we’re just left watching somebody at the booth next to us in the restaurant complain that they don’t have a wheat-free option on the menu.
  • And the rest of them… The rest of the characters are equally ill-defined. Florence is essentially nothing, just someone there for Greenberg to waste some time with so the movie isn’t only 20 minutes long. We learn absolutely nothing about her over the course of the movie other than that she appears to have zero self-esteem for some unknown reason. It could be from a recent breakup, but that’s so chintzy that it seems almost like cheating.
  • Having No Hook: There’s no hook in this film from an entertainment standpoint. There’s no real drama, no funny moments, nothing to draw you in. It just sits around and talks to itself for over 100 minutes. It may seem a bit ill-informed, but shouldn’t movies at least try to entertain?

Overall:

Finding a story in this film is impossible.  Finding a character where the audience can rest is just as hard.  Finding a reason to want to watch the movie is even harder than the first two points combined.  Greenberg is, quite simply, a plot-less mess of a film that talks endlessly without ever managing to say a thing.

Instead, it’s content to simply meander, giving no real reasons for any of its characters’ situations, and refusing to allow them to grow or even seem as if they exist in a world with which anybody is remotely familiar. It makes no attempt to entertain, simply falling so in love with itself and whatever thematic goal it’s attempting.

And therein lies the real problem with this film: It’s dreck, but it doesn’t think it’s dreck. The film thinks it’s a sophisticated study of something. What that study is and how it’s studying it is never apparent at any point nor is any sense of purpose. This is the type of film that would normally be labeled as pretentious, except in this case it isn’t intelligent enough to be pretentious – it just comes off as the scribblings of somebody desperate to make a unique film with depth without ever bothering to make sure a quality film is being produced in the process.

It’s one thing to make a movie that’s terrible, but when you make a movie that’s terrible despite ostensibly having some higher plateau in mind, that’s when you make a clunker for the ages.

Rating: 1/10

Greenberg opens in limited release on March 26, 2010

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