What do Robin Williams, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, and now Ben Stiller, all have in common? They’ve all transitioned from strictly comedic actors to dramatic actors. While Williams and Carrey have been doing it for quite a while, Ben Stiller is the new comer to this select fraternity of funny guys turned serious. With his new movie, Greenberg, now out on DVD the world will finally get to see Stiller show off his acting chops.
In Greenberg, Stiller plays Roger Greenberg; a depressed single man who was just released from a mental institution in New York now staying with his brother, Phillip Greenberg (played by the deadpan funny Chris Messina), in Los Angeles. Roger’s brother and family take a vacation to Vietnam (seriously, who takes a family vacation to Vietnam?) and leave Roger to stay at their house while they’re gone. I don’t know about you guys, but if my depressed, mental brother came to stay with me right after getting out of a mental hospital…I don’t know if I’d entrust him in watching my house. Roger, a former carpenter, promises to build the family pooch a dog house while the family is away. In the meantime, Phillip’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), and Roger strike up a relationship. The rest of the movie is filled with Roger’s outbursts in public places towards everyone he cares about, apologizing to Greta, losing his best friend, and realizing that he is in love.
At the heart of the film, it is a romantic (dark) comedy, but it’s also an interesting look at a man struggling to deal with normal occurences. Roger Greenberg doesn’t drive, yet he’s turning 41 years old. He’s emotionally detached from just about everyone he meets and he takes better care of the Greenberg’s family dog than he does himself. It’s all of this that should point to a conclusion where Roger suddenly realizes that if he doesn’t turn his life around he’s going to lose everyone he cares about, even if it is extremely deep down inside. What goes wrong in the movie is the writing. It’s dutifully acted by both Stiller and Gerwig, the script however lets both of them down. Roger emotionally and verbally abuses Florence in just about every way possible, yet she still sticks around and gives him chance after chance, even though she seems level-headed and down to Earth enough to know when someone is beating her down emotionally. It’s the fact that any normal person would have said to Roger, “fuck you, I’m out” the first time he threw a temper tantrum in a public place.
Perhaps it’s Florence’s vulnerability to blame for the story not progressing or maybe it’s just the way the character’s were written, but the movie would have been so much better had Roger come into conflict with his own personality. Instead he escapes his wrong-doings by partying with his younger niece, who is back from college, and doing drugs. He then contemplates going with his niece and her friend to Australia the next day before finally realizing that it’s Florence or nobody.
As a whole, Greenberg is nothing special, it’s Stiller’s branching out into a realm of acting he’s never been before that’s really worth watching here. There are times where Stiller may have over done the dramatics or perhaps undersold his character, that’s to be expected with for an actor who really has only done comedic roles his entire career, but it’s a step in the right direction for an actor who everyone once thought only had one role in him.