Greenberg is a classic example of a very “indie” feeling comedy. The cast, apart from Ben Stiller in the lead role, isn’t well-known, the majority of the humor is perpetuated from awkward situations and conversations between its characters, and there aren’t many locations to go to. It feels very much like an indie film, and for better or worse, that’s exactly what it is.
What this means for its audience is that some will find it funny, creative and enjoyable, while others will absolutely despise it and call it a boring piece of art that is aimed primarily at “art house snobs” and critics. There’s some merit behind the latter statement, because this type of comedy isn’t aimed at the general populace, even if it likely could be enjoyed by most. There’s a specific niche that Greenberg wants to fill, and for me, it does that job wonderfully.
The story has a possibly depressed and alcoholic Roger Greenberg (Stiller) coming to L.A. to house-sit for his brother. Given his current mental state, he’s not exactly the most apt person for the job, but his brother figures that he can look after a house and a dog for 6 weeks. Was this really a good choice?
Here is where we diverge from a typical Hollywood story, and transition into independent film territory. If this was a mid-budget Hollywood film, he would likely stay at his house the entire time, with things going wrong inside of it. People would come over and cause mayhem, and there would likely be some Home Alone style robbers appearing at one point or another.
In Greenberg, Stiller’s character goes out often, not actually staying at the house all that often. Instead, he leaves in order to interact with other characters. There are two in particular that he hangs around with, but for very clear, very different reasons. One of them is his old friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who he wishes to reconnect with. The other is a girl named Florence (Greta Gerwig), and she plays his love interest.
Like I said earlier, the main comedic moments of the film come from the different interactions–often being incredibly awkward–between the characters involved. Ivan and Florence plays characters that bring out both the best and worst in Roger, as well as allow him to be himself, his true self. When he acts like he feels, things become really awkward, and elicit a large amount of laughter from me.
This is where the arguments that the film was made for art house snobs and critics comes in. The way a film is marketed will often determine how successful a film is. If the film looks like a typical Hollywood comedy, then people will go in expecting that kind of humor. They will then leave disappointed. Greenberg, on the other hand, wasn’t marketed this way at all. Ben Stiller’s name being attached to it might have hindered its niche appeal, but primarily, people should know what they’re getting into with this film. It’s targeted at the types of people who don’t like typical Hollywood comedies, and shouldn’t be shunned or rejected for doing so.
What Greenberg does better than anything else is build its character up to be human. You’re not necessarily supposed to like Robert or Florence, especially the former of the two, but they’re both very human characters. Males around the age of 40 will especially be able to relate to Robert, who’s more or less going through a mid-life crisis. Ivan is likable, although he’s had his fair share of problems in the past–issues that Robert still has to deal with.
Performances are on the whole pretty solid, with Stiller and Ifans being the best of the bunch. Both performances have depth, and make us care more about the characters. Stiller’s character is a tragically flawed one, and when the film reaches its climax, his problems and possible solutions to those problems all come to a head. And we care, because of his performance. Both actors also fit perfectly into the film, and despite not being a big fan of Stiller myself, I can see that he’s a good enough actor if given good material to work with.
Said good material is the script, which comes courtesy of director Noah Baumbach and one of the actors playing a small role in the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Their script feels real, focuses on characterization, and ends up being really funny. While there aren’t many laugh-out-loud moments, if you appreciate the humor, you’ll end up giggling to yourself throughout the duration of the film, and to me, that’s almost better. A constant smile is better than a slightly stronger one that emerges half as often, in my opinion.
Greenberg is the picture-perfect definition of an independent comedy film. If you don’t tend to like them, then stay far away from it, because you won’t enjoy yourself. If you do happen to find them funny, then by all means, watch Greenberg, because you will laugh at all of the awkward situations that characters find themselves in, as well as the awkward dialogue exchanges between these characters. Some of it is heartbreaking, but almost all of the film is humorous. Stay away mainstream Hollywood comedy fans though, as this movie isn’t for you.