Greenberg by Noah Baumbach

I am aware that this movie is not the most cheerful and is not for everyone.

Its main character is despicable, to say the least, the rhythm of the movie is quite slow.

That being said, I still like this movie.

The characters are well developed and the relationship between Florence and Greenberg is touching and hopeful, at least in the end.

It is one of these movies which makes me feel like I am watching real life, not some famous glamorous people.

I appreciate the time dedicated to get to know the characters through seemingly unessential dialogues. The audience is inserted into the characters’life rather than watching people say their lines from afar.

I found the movie well directed and written, the actors are great as well as the soundtrack composed by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.

Let’s dig deeper

The film opens with 8 minutes solely dedicated to Florence.

Roger Greenberg after whom the movie is named, appears after.

I  noticed because it is unusual to start with a character and stay with it for so long and who is not supposed to be the main one.

This movie could have very well be called “Greenberg and Florence”. But he is so self-centered and takes so much space, the use of his sole name can be justified.

Florence

You can see right away that she is a bit of a pushover, she is so willing to all the tasks the Greenbergs give even though they bombard her with tasks and information.

She is not even bothered they don’t pay her in time and then she borrows money from her friend.

She finished college a long time ago and says “no one cares if she gets up in the morning”. Like Roger, she is extremely lonely.

She poses her hand on the person she just hooked up with: you can see she is desperate for affection.

She says twice in traffic: “Are you going to let me in?”. Screenwriters like Noah Baumbach doesn’t write lines randomly: it’s a metaphor for her desire for intimacy and her relationship with Greenberg.

She lacks confidence: let people treat her badly, excuse herself for her taste in music, never stand up for herself, always says “it’s not a problem” when people demand things from her.

She also downplays her gig saying “it is a stupid thing”.

It is n attitude that bothers Roger, making him think she is broken like him and not good for her (he storms off after hearing the striptease story).

Roger Greenberg

What I like about Greenberg, is that he is so multi-dimensional in a way I haven’t seen a lot in movies.

His anxiety is so well depicted that it brings me back to my own (I mean if I tone it down a LOT).

He is obviously a jerk, but as the movie unfolds you discover more about his issues, how pathetic he is in every sense of the way.
In his first scene, he calls Florence to inquire about people in the pool.
Which seems like a normal reaction, and yet with the simple sentence ” there are more than two people” to justify his stress, the director hints at Greenberg intimacy issues

I think the scene where he tries to swim showcase it greatly. The way he undresses to go in the pool shows how unusual he is and as he tries to swim, you see his lack of technique with his almost comical motion.

Hurt people hurt people

The tension rises as he almost drown and suddenly a very saturated sound of a helicopter passing by change the moment to a dramatic one and illustrates his extreme distress and pain.

It is very difficult to make a movie about a character that the audience won’t like. And yet, you can relate to him.

He has reflections that I find true about the world, he seems really smart.

I also think sometimes he is mistreated as people remind him 15 years later that he destroyed their lives by refusing a record deal.

He is also almost harassed by Florence’s friend at her concert: she doesn’t stop asking him questions when he wants to listen to Florence, telling him ” you are so quiet” as if being an introvert was an offense.

That being said, he treats people horribly.

He pushes Florence away and goes back to his old flame who forgot completely about him because it is “safe”.

He doesn’t care about Ivan or his son and wants him to stay separated from his wife because he just wants his old friend back even if it means him to be unhappy.

Because happy people cannot be around him.

He hates when people sing on his birthday. “You’re such a fucking asshole!” he says to Ivan who planned the celebration. He doesn’t like being on the spot and getting attention or celebration. “Sit on my dick asshole!”. You can see anxiety made him panicked because later on Florence laughs about it and he doesn’t remember saying it.

As the movie progresses, he becomes aware of his problems, at least in parts: “I should be able to drive, it is ridiculous” or “people don’t call on my birthday, but then again I don’t call on theirs”.

He self sabotages and hides behind being mean and cruel for self-preservation.

He carries the guilt of shattering the dreams of his bandmates and hides it all by deflecting the fault and his hatred on the whole world.

Their relationship

Florence and Greenberg are like yin and yang: She is kind, caring, warm, easily accomodating, and even manipulable and desperate for intimacy.

He is self-centered, angry, arrogant, enslaved to his anxieties, and wants to keep people away.

At first, he rejects her as a form of self-sabotage or even self-preservation thinking she is the dysfunctional one (“you transfer so much onto me”).

He gets really pissed at the story she tells me about stripping for boys because it shows how she is influential and broken. He leaves when he hears it thinking she is not good for him (“this is the stupidest story I have ever heard”).

She is attracted to him because “he is vulnerable” so there might be an emotional connection with him.

They have music in common: he used to be a songwriter and member of a band, she sings.

You can see when he sees her sing that he really “sees” her for the first time.

Music plays a big part in this movie. He even tries to seduce her with his music knowledge right away, makes her a mixtape.

About the last third of the movie, you see him trying harder: he starts building the dog house, he sends his letter of complaints…There is hope for them.

Conclusion

it is a movie about dysfunctional people finding each other and even if the process is painful, learn to get closer and build something together. it is their true shot at happiness as the hopeful ending suggests. Florence sees through Greenberg’s problems and he finally realizes that he can’t flee his own life forever (he fled L.A to NYC 15 years ago then NYC for LA and tried to flee last minute to Australia).

The pleasant thing about this movie is to have two characters that feel real and not fabricated. And that’s for once, the characters are highly dysfunctional but it ends up on a hopeful note.

I think I like this movie because it focuses on the characters and their psychology which I find very interesting.

It is also very difficult to do, so I am not surprised to see that Noah Baumbach’s career has flourished for the past 10 years.


I think the actors’ performances are particularly striking but I know it is a movie that would be challenging to enjoy for some people that is why I thought it was an interesting movie to debate about.

I can’t wait to read your comment, don’t forget to write which movie you would like us to watch next time (we will proceed to a vote!) and remember to put your email when you comment so you are notified when someone replies to you. The next movie selected will be announced next Sunday!

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Mimi

The minute I put on “Greenberg”, I had to look up Stiller and Gerwig’s respective ages; in 2010, at the time of the film’s release, he was 45 and she was barely 27. This fact heavily informed my viewing of the film, as I was uncomfortably reminded that Baumbach himself was 40 at the time he met his 2nd-wife-to-be, Gerwig, at the set of this very film. While age differences between film directors and their stars-turned-extramarital-affairs really shouldn’t be the driving force of film reviews, the question of how much of Baumbach there is in Greenberg stayed with me throughout. After all, he would be far from the first director to project himself onto a behaviorally-challenged-yet-still-somehow-sympathetic-asshole who finds himself dating a much younger woman who for some reason remains enthralled with him throughout (see Woody Allen’s entire filmography for reference… better yet, don’t).

While the general premise of the plot would usually to make my blood boil, “Greenberg” left me feeling rather tepid, surprisingly. Viewing it was a flat line, spiked by minute irritations which would quickly fizzle out. More often than not, I found the most sympathetic character to be Ivan; I was immensely happy that Greenberg didn’t get to destroy his life yet another time by constantly offering him booze and criticizing his immigrant wife. He also offered an interesting outsider’s perspective of the protagonist. By the end of the film, I was certain that Ivan, much like all the other characters, tolerated Greenberg out of pity and memories of shared camaraderie, which, quite often, was far more than what he deserved.
Well, I guess, not /all/ characters – there is, of course, Florence. Curiously, Gerwig’s mumbly, awkward, one-tone delivery gave me flashbacks to another movie about a failing middle aged man dating a younger woman set in California – The Room. The improbability of Florence’s attachment to Greenberg and the total lack of chemistry between the two leads made for a great exercise in eyebrow-raising. We all know of, have heard of, or even have been this girl – the struggling college graduate who should know better than try to fix troubled middle aged men. While the film does try, albeit haphazardly, to give a third dimension to this unfortunate trope of a woman, it veers dangerously close to turning Florence into a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, gradually shaping her up to be /the only one/ savior of Greenberg’s hidden heart.

Oh, and it is a hidden one alright – the viewer can barely sense it from under the steaming pile of vague, unnamed neuroses, deeply flawed beliefs about interpersonal relationships, and an emotional IQ of a potato. With that being said, Greenberg’s character did not make the film uncomfortable to view, it did not even inspire hatred – rather, it just made me wonder why anyone, including the viewers, would give this man the time of day. I was unconvinced by the emotional long shots lingering on Stiller’s face, and found little to relate to in his framed-to-be-profound music taste and letter writing, as well as his big cocaine rant about the crassness of youth. That Florence, even the doormat that she is, would make the mistake of coming back to this man not once, not twice but three times, is so far out of touch with any reality I inhibit that what little immersion I had to begin with was utterly broken much before the film ended.

However, my biggest issue with the film remains the complete lack of critical framing of the romantic dynamic between the two mains. By constantly allowing Greenberg and Florence to go back to square one without any real repercussions for his abusive behavior, Baumbach consciously abandons any meaningful statement on the pitfalls and, quite possibly dangers that a relationship as deeply imbalanced as theirs will undoubtedly have. A disrespectful, emotionally crippled neurotic whom I would rather not diagnose, and a young woman with crippling self-confidence issues almost two decades his junior do not a happy ending make. The only thing to stop Greenberg from chaotically jumping around through his mid-life crisis like a ping-pong ball is not a romantic relationship, or re-learning how to drive, or restarting his band, but rather quitting relying on seemingly infinite family inheritance, and investing in a good, honest therapist. As Ivan reminds him, “It’s never too late.”

Siggi

Hi guys!
I also watched the movie (a little while back) so I’ve decided to leave my two cents if that’s okay 🙂
I absolutely think that Baumbach was going for a non-sympathetic main character in Greenberg. It is very hard to relate at all to this guy but maybe that is the genius of it? Greenberg is an obnoxius, hateful, pathetic, hyper stressed guy. When his character first entered I thought to myself “Wow, I have nothing in common with this guy, what an asshole”. Then after a while I found myself thinking, “hang on, maybe there is something here that people can relate to?”. He practicly sabotaged his own band. He keeps clinging on to this one relatationsship that felt super real to him but not to the other person. He cannot stand other people, yet when the kids have a party he wants to be at the center of it. To me, this is very human behaviour. He has a LOT of issues, blames a lot of them on other people but at the same time he wants love, acceptance, happyness but is incapable of it. He’s like a walking Smiths song!

I thought the actors did a really good job. Rhys Ifans was great as Ivan, the friend who is abused by Greenberg and yet doesnt give up on him. Ben Stiller was also good but my mean problem with him is that he usually plays these unlikeable, annoying guys. And Greenberg is like an amped up version of the guys he usually plays! So sometimes it felt like Zoolander having an extitential crisis. Still, it was nice seeing Stiller doing something a little bit different
I thought Greta Gerwig as excellent in this film. She really captured what a lot of people feel these days. She’s lonely in a big city and gets walked all over. Yet, she tries to find some good in people.