Greenberg (2010): Movie Review

Through most of this year, I’ve grown fonder and fonder of writer, director, producer, and low-budget filmmaker Noah Baumbach. Starting off with the 2017 film, The Meyerowitz Stories, I found myself entranced by his work, and began watching his other films, almost in order by recency. After watching some of his other films, such as While We’re Young (2014), and Frances Ha (2012), I was at a CD Tradepost for a sale, and saw one of his other films, Greenberg (2010). I, of course, bought it without hesitation, as I love both Ben Stiller and Mr. Baumbach, and after watching it twice over about a month’s period my thoughts on it are more or less set in stone.

The most impressive aspect of Baumbach’s films is often the writing, and the character relationships in particular. Whether it be through experience, or imagination, he’s managed to grasp onto how humans act, think, and go through life. This is mirrored in Greenberg as well, with his spot-on representation of tons of different characters with tons of different stories (and therefore, perspectives). Also like his other films, Greenberg focuses on a more dysfunctional adult at a time in their life where they’re going through some difficult changes. However, in this film, the main character is arguably more dysfunctional than those in all of his others (I currently have not seen The Squid and the Whale), making it seemingly more difficult to portray, but he pulls it off nonetheless.

Baumbach’s genius writing in combination with the great acting from stars like Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig combine into real, raw characters who are incredibly believable. Even though their actions are sometimes illogical and irrational, there manages to be some rationalization or explanation from a character (blatantly stated or not) that helps you understand why it’s happening. This makes incredibly awkward and infuriating scenes (like a certain one towards the beginning of the film) excusable, and actually good in their own way. This film is really good at making you feel uncomfortable, but for the purpose of the story and the characters, which is something a lot of films don’t do. Most scenes where I’m uncomfortable signal poor writing, but here it’s quite the opposite.

The raw quality of the acting and the writing does have a down-side. Where this movie (along with his other films) shines is also one of the only places where it shines. The budget was pretty small, at 25 million (one of his larger movie budgets), and is by no means a blockbuster. As a result, there’s huge special effects or wide shots, and instead most of his storytelling is told by the actors on the screen. The soundtrack is fantastic, but with a subtlety that makes it less noticeable as something by Trent Reznor or John Williams. There’s nothing flashy, and that’s just how he seems to like it. The movie is pretty entertaining, and filled with many good laughs, but often uncomfortable ones as well. It’s not made entirely to garner laughs from an audience, and more to just tell the story as Mr. Baumbach wants it to be told. It’s not attention-grabbing, and it doesn’t pander, it’s just a 2-hour snapshot of someone’s life.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable dramatic comedy, with great performances from the actors and actresses, as well as some terrific writing. There are very few things that I find potentially frustrating with the film, and most aren’t objectively wrong in any way. One thing I’m careful to touch is the portrayal of Ben Stiller’s character. He supposedly had a mental breakdown, and is currently figuring out his mental health situation, and although I think they do a good job at being understanding of his actions, someone with similar struggles may find it disheartening or upsetting. Other than that, as I discussed, most of the downsides to this film just come as a result of Noah Baumbach’s style of film. He stays very true to himself and his work, and some people may not like that style of film. It’s a very raw film about actual life scenarios, most likely coming from his heart, and that could be off-putting to some people. If you watch films to escape reality into a feel-good world, his movies probably aren’t for you. The stories are hard-hitting and impactful, and will make you think. As a result, they aren’t really commercial successes, and are mainly for people like me, and large critics to drool over.

I’m thinking this is an 8/10. This isn’t my favorite one of Noah Baumbach’s films, but I enjoyed it a lot. Artistically, I think it’s a 9 or a 9.5/10, but his style of film comes with the caveat of not being accessible to many audiences, making it hard to rate that high. I would recommend you watch it, and several of his other films, but if you don’t like Greenberg for whatever reason, you most likely won’t like the other movies he’s worked on.

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