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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Greenberg: 40 Going on 41

Here are some characteristics essential to Roger Greenberg, played by Ben Stiller in Greenberg: He is cold, aloof and dispassionate toward change. He exemplifies the peculiar notions of a highly unlikable man whose only tool of comfort is his Chapstick.

As in Noah Baumbach’s previous films, Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale, his latest comic feature Greenberg explores the melodramatic themes behind a man who, somewhere along his way in life, got stuck in the middle.

The film brings insight into the life of Greenberg, a 40-year-old ex-musician who has partially recovered from a nervous breakdown. He temporarily moves into his successful brother’s beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills. Greenberg is essentially taking a break from life, as he casually declares throughout many scenes – “I’m trying to do nothing right now.” (Yeah, try telling this to your more successful friends, let alone your parents.)

As he fiddles along his self-searching path of nothingness, Greenberg makes an awkward attempt to rekindle past friendships. He also forms an on-and-off relationship with his brother’s personal assistant, Florence Marr – played by rising indie-film princess Greta Gerwig.

Marr embodies the physical features of a younger Kate Winslet, spending most of her time hanging out at art-type parties and occasionally singing at Los Angeles hipster hotspots such as the Silverlake Lounge. At the same time, she too shares Greenberg’s depression – lost in the lonely, directionless smog that shrouds the gorgeous depiction of the LA landscape.

Greenberg’s character is frustrating and unsympathetic, and ultimately isn’t very complex. He is an insensitive curmudgeon with many explosive dimensions of neuroses, who often angrily writes letters of complaint to companies like Starbucks and American Airlines during his frequent free time.

Though keeping up with the film’s sluggish pace may be difficult, there are occasional moments of effortless quirkiness and witty humor. Stiller’s role, which breaks from his typical kooky characters, came as a surprise. Together, Baumbach and Stiller do a great job of creating a defensive and low-esteemed character, who often acts too narcissistic for his own size. “Life is wasted on people,” he retorts during his 41st birthday dinner.

The film is a reaffirmation of the inevitable instability that exists among many of us. It especially resonates in our generation, where an economic collapse may leave us in panic, followed by small doses of carelessness. It reminds us that our sense of direction in life can still be as uncertain as it was back when we were teenagers.

Greenberg will be playing at the Varsity Theatre starting on Apr. 9.

VANNA LE can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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