Wednesday, March 31, 2010


"The Boy in the Spastic Bubble"

The latest film by Noah Baumbach, "Greenberg" is a tour de force for actor Ben Stiller, who knows how to marginalize audiences himself (he directed "The Cable Guy" and "Tropic Thunder," after all). Combine him with the writer-director of "The Squid and the Whale" and "Margot at the Wedding" and you have two individuals creating something capable of making you squirm uncomfortably (in your comfortable theater seat) for its entire two hours, waiting for (if it were so formulaic) a reckoning of devastating proportions.

That would be letting you off easy.

Roger Greenberg (Stiller) is recovering from a nervous breakdown, and is house-sitting his brother's place and dog in L.A.—a place where he can relax in the hills above the smog and try to put his life back together. A carpenter by trade,
it is his goal to build the dog a dog-house. "I'm really trying to do nothing for awhile," is his stock answer. "That's brave at our age," says an old flame (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who co-wrote the story) that was extinguished long ago. Greenberg tries to connect with old friends from school days, but as he didn't communicate with anybody while he lived in New York, there's not much in common anymore. Greenberg is essentially stifled. Not capable of moving forward and paralyzed at the thought of doing something to change that ("I woke up one morning and literally my legs couldn't move. They said it was psychological."), he exists through the day not calling people, then wondering why nobody talks to him. He's insensitive to other people's needs, wants or emotions—he can't see past his own smog drifting through his mind.

Because there's nothing else to do—he doesn't drive, not terribly convenient in L.A.—he ends up seducing
his brother's nanny (Greta Gerwig), herself a fairly directionless person, numbed by a recent break-up and a tendency to be too compliant.

But, the relationship is one way and it all sucks towards Roger. A psycho-narcissist, he is so self-absorbed that any empathy perspective or ambition save for animal imperatives have been consumed and purged. A nanny is perfect for him, as he hasn't grown up. At all. And seems doomed to drive off any kind soul, sympathetic enough to put up with his bullying in-denial bullshit.

Now, let's pause for a second. We've been talking about "Greenberg" this whole time. let's talk about YOU for a moment.

YOU are NOT Greenberg.*

Oh, you might be in your worst moments—everybody can reach their limits of tolerance, have a crisis or a bad hair day and be less than 20%. And "Greenburg" can be a litmus test for anyone the least bit self-absorbed (but not in denial). I've already read a couple of reviews that seem to cast the writer's own issues onto a scenario that don't suggest them. So, yes, you will recognize yourself and others in this movie (all except for you, Mother Theresa), but you are not Greenberg. If you were, you'd already be dealing with it by subsisting on some anti-psychotic, anti-hysteric, anti-depression pharmaceutical to get past it. And understand, this is Greenberg's behavior ON Zoloft.

So, this movie can make you crazy. I had waves of wanting to strangle this 40 year old infant...if he weren't already doing it to himself. Reactions to a movie like this can be healthy; at least, I didn't want to walk out. And there is the least amount of some resolution to this guy who isn't happy unless he can hear himself talk.

Still, this is one to take in home.

"Greenberg" is a Rental.

* I succumbed to this. I can be insensitive, self-absorbed (I write...duh), and fail to recognize the needs of others. The one that hit me the hardest is that Greenberg occupies his time writing complaining letters to...everyone. And what have I been doing while the Wife is travelling? Writing movie reviews (I blame you, you read them). But, I've been doing other things as well. I have the most finely buffed and polished resume in town. My dog has his waist back (it's been a long Winter), and the taxes were done sooo long ago. I am not Greenberg. You are not Greenberg.

But THAT guy? Oh, man! (*tsk*) Def-initely.


Mike Lippert said...

There's a lot of people saying that this movie is okay but not great which is sad because I love Noah Baumbach and I really want to see this anyway the moment it opens somewhere near me. I didn't read your entire review because I don't read reviews until mine are written but I will be returning to it the moment I do see Greenberg.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I will say nothing, and see you back here when it comes by. My reaction this was personal (aren't they all?), but it was one where I couldn't be dispassionately critical. We all bring something to "The Show," but I'm usually able to separate me from The Guy Who's Seen Lots of Movies. I think this one is going to be the elephant in a room of blind men, we're all going to see something different, given our uniqueness.