Starring: Ben Stiller, Rhys Ifans, Chris Messina, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writer: Noah Baumbach

Cinematography: Harris Savides

Original Score: James Murphy

Running Time: 107 Mins.

Greenberg writer and director Noah Baumbach has a talent for crafting films based around deeply unlikable characters and drawing you into their tale, eventually making you either endeared to them, through their plight and learning to love their eccentric ways as more extreme versions of the foibles every one of us posses to varying degrees. He did it with Jeff Daniels character in The Squid and The Whale, Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding and now he achieves it most surprisingly with everyone’s favourite fall guy and comedic doormat Ben Stiller.

It has been quite some time since Stiller stretched his dramatic acting muscles, many forget that drama and thrillers are where Stiller began his acting career so it is always a welcome return when he hangs up his lowbrow comedy hat for a film or two giving us a rest from the laziness of Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents. So to Greenberg, yes it is a comedy of the darkest order, a comedy of truths rather than extremities and true to form for Baumbach’s scripts, his central character is a deeply unlikable person.

Recovering from a severe bout of depression, Roger Greenberg (Stiller) heads to L.A. from New York to house-sit his brother’s house, care for his dog and generally, in his own words, to simply “do nothing for a while”, which you will be unsurprised to learn is far from what he does ending up in a relationship with his brother’s P.A. and reconnecting with numerous people from his past including most significantly ex-bandmate and “best friend” Ivan Shrank (Rhys  Ifans). What Greenberg shares with Baumbach’s past film’s is a leisurely pace that sees very little actually happen, this will likely frustrate those who were frustrated by his past two efforts but if you bought into the lives of such navel gazing and, it has to be said, largely irritating people before you will adore Greenberg for all his faults, of which there are plenty.

The joy in Baumbach’s writing though is in recognising that though his characters are usually narcissistic they have a certain charm in that if you can look a little deeper there is a truth to their reactions that marks them out as much more “real”, in other words their reactions are closer to home than the average scripted person. Not that reality automatically makes for entertaining, but again Baumbach has a knack for finding the gentle and observational kind of humour that will linger with you much longer than the usual fart gag!

Stiller is excellent as Greenberg, flipping on his likeable loser persona from such films as Meet the Parents/Fockers, but it is in Greta Gerwig and Ifans, as love interest and best friend respectively, that the film is tipped beyond simple dramatic comedy stylings with Ifans in particular tapping into a never before seem side that is warm, funny and touching while representing a true friend to Greenberg that will stay by his side regardless of how selfish the guy can be, it is nice to see that there is so much more Ifans acting than over-acting and if there were any justice he would be in the running for best supporting actor awards…sadly the world we live in will likely see such a unjustice served, aptly really as that is the same approach Greenberg himself would likely take!

VERDICT

Greenberg makes this a Baumbach hat-trick of great dramadies led by the character’s rather than plot, realistically touching despite having a largely unlikable lead character but it is in Rhys Ifans that the film finds its heart, and nicest truth.

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