If you’re not a Ben Stiller fan this movie is unlikely to change things.
Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a neurotic New Yorker who crashes at his vacationing brother’s place in Los Angeles to recover from a nervous breakdown.
What You Should Know About Roger:
He is a former musician who scuttled his band’s only major label deal. Fifteen years later he still feels guilty.
While in L.A. Greenberg looks up old bandmates Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and Beller (Mark Duplass), attempts to reconnect with ex-girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and initiates an on again, off again relationship with Florence (Greta Gerwig), a (much younger) woman who works as a personal assistant for Greenberg’s brother and his family.
In Other Words ….
“You know, what it’s really about is a guy who has figured out a way to protect himself from the realities of the world,” Stiller confides in a DVD extra.
Dude! I coulda used that line when I was your age. As in “I know I come off like a sarcastic, insensitive and self-absorbed jerk. Truth is, though, I’m just protecting myself from the realities of the world.”
Punch Drunk Flub:
As a viewer I guess I am supposed to “feel something for this guy who has put up so many layers and so many barriers and so much protection” as he makes baby steps towards what passes for humanity in his dyspeptic world.
Instead, I find myself agreeing with Florence’s BFF, Gina (Merritt Wever) who urges her friend to dump Greenberg before he does irreparable damage to what is left of her self respect.
Even long-suffering Ivan gets fed up with his acerbic buddy after awhile.
Supposedly this role was going to do for Stiller’s career what Punch Drunk Love allegedly did for Adam Sandler, namely prove that an actor best known for recycling the same goofball persona for easy to please audiences in lowbrow comedies can craft a character and be accepted as a serious actor if he is given the right material to work with.
Maybe Stiller just doesn’t have the range as an actor, or there is something seriously lacking in Noah Baumbach’s screenplay and/or direction but I gotta tell ya … I just didn’t feel it.
Judging from Stiller’s latest effort, an amiable little bit of action comedy fluff called Tower Heist, it is back to business as usual.
In the meantime, we can only hope Baumbach is working on something with the intelligence and wit he displays in his 2006 indie film hit The Squid and the Whale.
Noah Good Place To Live:
“I wanted to shoot L.A. as a real city,” Brooklyn-born filmmaker Baumbach tells us in a DVD featurette. “A city that I have come to kind of know …”
Well, all I can is, if even half your friends are as shallow, self-absorbed, cynical and passive-aggressive as Greenberg and his crowd, I’d take a tip from former Angeleno Harrison Ford and move to a ranch in Wyoming.
BTW: According to the film credits Baumbach based his screenplay on a story by actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (until recently) the current Mrs. B. Ms. Leigh played around with similar ideas in an earlier (and better) film, The Anniversary Party which she co-wrote and co-directed with pal Alan Cumming.