Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Life Is Wasted On... People.

So, there were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments in Greenberg, and that line was one of them. The whole delivery of it. "'Life is wasted on the living.' 'I'd go further. I'd say, life is wasted on... people.'" Hilarious. Pity that for the most part, though, the film was just kind of tedious.

Ben Stiller takes the lead role of Roger Greenberg, a 40 year old carpenter who has just returned to Los Angeles to housesit his brother's house while he is on an extended holiday with his family. Roger has also just suffered a nervous breakdown. His brother tells Roger that he can use their personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), and, after a rocky start, the two enter into a sexual relationship. At the same time, Roger is reconnecting with his old life in LA. He meets up with an old bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), the only one who really talks to him now after Roger scotched a record deal fifteen years earlier that lead to the demise of the band, who in turn helps to reconnect him to other friends, including Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an ex-girlfriend that Roger also tries to hit it off with, only to be met with rejection.

Aaand, that's about it. Really. 

I can see what the aim was here. Casting Stiller was probably similar to the tried and tested casting of someone against type in a serious but slightly, wryly comic film (see The Truman Show, Man On The Moon and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind for examples of this succeeding with Jim Carrey...) and show off their acting chops whist dealing with a serious subject and breaking down audience perceptions of the reality of the ailment and of the abilities of the actors. I'm sure that was the aim. The problem was the script just didn't really have anything going for it. There is no hook there. The hook is presumably meant to be Roger, but he is almost entirely unlikeable - nothing makes you root for him, nothing makes you really care about his predicament. He's a knob. Sure, he's had a hard time recently and that might be making him more of a knob, but it also seems that he was a knob before, and he doesn't stop being a knob as the film goes on, which leads you to conclude that, yep, he's a knob and nothing's going to change. 

And then it doesn't seem quite like they finished writing it. There are points in there that feel perfectly scripted, but then points where it feels like they're running on impro, but they're not doing in particularly well. There's a scene involving Leigh and Stiller in a coffee shop where I really noticed it. Like, not having a script is fine and all, and improing all the way along can work really well, but you can't chop and change like that. If it's going to feel like you're making it up as you go along then make sure it is consistent and it can add to the film. But when an occasional scene here and there feels like that it is very, very distracting. And incredibly frustrating.

More than that, however, was the issue with the character arc, and the fact that our protagonist didn't seem to have one. Florence kind of did, she was a much more interesting and empathetic character beautifully played by Gerwig. Maybe if the film had focused on her it would have worked, but she was secondary and her vastly superior story was an also-ran.

Leigh co-created the story with director Noah Baumbach, as well as serving as producer. The film felt very Baumbach, but I'm sure some of the blame must sadly be laid at the feet of Leigh, which is sad because I quite like her. And for the most part, out of the just-off impro segment, I liked her performance in Greenberg. And I think the idea had merit. But then... no. 2 stars.

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