Greenberg — Big Budget Mumblecore

Months ago a friend told me of a preview she saw starring a guy just like me. He lived in our neighborhood, had no ambition, and liked to complain. When I saw the preview she was talking about I grew depressed. If they made a movie about me I thought it would star Sean Penn, Matthew Fox, or maybe Cary Grant’s ghost. Greenberg though stars Ben Stiller.

The one positive note from the preview was the fact the movie was directed by Noah Baumbach. Baumbach wrote and directed possibly the most perfect romantic comedy ever in Mr. Jealousy.  He grew more acclaimed when he made The Squid and The Whale. He last birthed a disappointing mess with Margot at the Wedding. Part of the problem with Margot was Baumbach tried to stick Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Jack Black against type in a movie about specific characters. Movie stars for the most part are only successful when they play variations of themselves. Fortunately in Greenberg, Ben Stiller, is cast in an extreme variation of his stock role, the annoying, socially awkward schmuck.

But even though Greenberg is named after Stiller’s character, it’s really about Florence, played by Greta Gerwig. She is someone you see hiking through Runyon Canyon or shopping at the farmer’s market. Whereas I can’t really buy Stiller as a carpenter or a musician, Gerwig completely inhabits her character. She’s the girl who moved to LA to sing, but has a crap apartment, a thankless indentured servitude to Greenberg’s rich brother, and wears a frumpy robe after sex. She oozes low self esteem in a recognizable way you never see in the movies.

Gerwig is a veteran of a genre film snobs have loved to namedrop for the past year called Mumblecore. It’s a catchall phrase for  indie flicks heavy on stilted dialogue and sex while low on budget and high concept plotting. Greenberg fits comfortably within this model. I can’t decide what is more of a death knell for this genre,  Ben Stiller becoming its posterboy or me writing about it.

Whatever its genre Greenberg might be off putting to many. Most people go to the movies for escapism. They want to see blood and guts or hot bodies or the girl who gets the career and the guy whipped into place. Greenberg doesn’t offer any of these qualities. It’s about miserable people with no goals who somehow seem to have found a path toward happiness. The characters’ anxieties at times make for uncomfortable viewing. But as I thought about Greenberg the next day I couldn’t help but to root for the neurotic prick, who by the by is nothing like me. I hope.

3 thoughts on “Greenberg — Big Budget Mumblecore

  1. Nice review, Pablo. I have to say I’ve watched my fair share of “mumblecore” films but some of them I just don’t like. Hope you’re not as neurotic as Greenberg. It was hard to actually root for a character like that in the film.

  2. Austin Guerrero hopes you’re not as neurotic as Greenberg because he only stalks men with minimal psychological problems. Stalk away, young man!

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