Greenberg (2010) Directed by Noah Baumbach
I was in a band once that was signed to a major record label (actually, it's something that has happened to me a couple of times in my life). On this occasion it ended in tears when the promise of something better from the label led to compromise on my part against the wishes of my band members. I lost my band (I left) directly as a consequence of said compromise (the recording of two songs). I learnt many things from this experience. Trust your band members. I'm still not sure they were right, or that I agreed with their view on the songs. Compromise and the possibility of something immaterial are no substitute for the binds that tie. Friendships were damaged (I'd like to think not permanently) and a few years' work was wasted. This was the only way possible for me to relate the character Ben Stiller plays in Greenberg.
As the Greenberg of the title, Stiller gives a note perfect performance as a former musician turned carpenter, suffering from depression in a shallow-peopled LA. Self-absorbed, narcissistic, vain, humorless and selfish Greenberg has gone through life thinking his own way is the only way. Away from his native NewYork and house sitting for his brother in LA, Greenberg tries to re-connect with his former friends (an excellent Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh). In doing so he reluctantly falls for his brother's personal assistant, the equally lost, low on self-esteem Florence (Greta Gerwig).
After a whole stream of very uncomfortable scenes, Greenberg finally offers us some redemption in the promise of love fulfilled. Baumbach handles Greenberg with an uneasy mix of comedy, seriousness and then ultimately embarrassment. A sharp, dryly witty script helps, as does James Murphy's unobtrusive soundtrack. But Stiller dominates. An awkward yet enjoyable romp.
I think I need to watch this film again in about six months, because I know I missed some things this time around that I would usually really appreciate. As I was watching Greenberg I was sitting on a birthing ball (a normal gym ball actually) trying quite desperately to get comfortable and failing all the time. This personal difficulty made me not focus perfectly and it added a touch too much un-comfortability to an already uncomfortable film.
The film's sense of discomfort was of course intentional and well-established. Ben Stiller's character Roger Greenberg was returning to LA from a period of hospitalization due to serious depression. He landed somewhere between what he knew of his old life and what he was about do discover. He seemed to be suffering from a catharsis of sorts – a change was taking place. A kind of mirror image of himself was reflected on the young assistant Florence (played by Greta Gerwig), who was equally lost in life, but much younger and a woman. This film played with a very genuine feeling of awkwardness all the way through, its events and shifts in characters and plot were subtle and therefore believable. Something kept me at a distance though, which might be my own fault, I know.
There was a great scene between Roger and his good friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) where they finally told each other how they felt and had been effected by the end of their band together about a decade earlier. I have never seen a scene in a movie getting so deep into how meaningful it can be for a person to have a band (even an unsuccessful and unknown one). Those relationships are immense and what happens between the people and to the dreams the members have is crucial in life. Bands are life. There, that was a nice acknowledgement from a film.