Greenberg

15 Nov

Greenberg, the film from earlier this year by Noah Baumbach, is kind of boring.

But it’s also kind of interesting.

Ben Stiller plays a middle-aged man who leaves New York and goes and takes care of his brother’s home in Los Angeles. He speaks with some old friends, mopes around the home and has an awkward romance with his brother’s assistant. Stiller’s character is flawed, but not fatally flawed. He’s narcissistic, selfish, broods a lot, and can sometimes be a jerk. In other words, his characters often acts like a real person. And real people are sometimes lovely and charming but are also sometimes kind of jerks.

Nothing supernaturally dramatic happens during the film. Most of the film involves Stiller awkwardly, sometimes painfully, interacting with other characters, who each, while still being more socially aware than Stiller, are flawed as well in their own ways. I think that’s why I found the film kind of boring. We’re watching normal, flawed people in normal, flawed social situations acting for the most part normally (or mostly normal). If a film is going to capture interest in a real way, one of these three elements need to be off. Either the characters, the situation or the way they react to the situation must be different. But in Greenberg, none of these three elements are different enough.

Greenberg is a movie of existential angst. But it isn’t all that angsty. Stiller, for the most part, broods about his existence but doesn’t do anything about it. Nor does he have some profound experience of enlightenment. The emotional climax of the film is an argument between Stiller and a friend about the flaws in each of them. But even that moment failed to excite me in any particular way. There was no punch to it.

Film should speak to the life of real people. That doesn’t mean it needs to replicate the life of real people.

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