Ever since The squid and the whale was released, I have been curious to check out whatever project Noah Bambauch releases. I find the uncomfortableness he evokes on the screen to be oddly intriguing, it's like watching an episode of Curb your enthusiasm except darker and with not quite so many laughs. Even the horrendous disappointment that was Margo at the Wedding wasn't enough to deter me from seeing this movie. So on friday, seeing that there was only one showing left at the cinema, I embarked on my own to catch Greenberg before it stopped showing. There were only about five other people in the cinema (all of which were over sixty) and at times I felt the Noah Bambauch sting of uncomfortableness as I seemed to be the only person laughing. Not that there a a whole lot of laughs in this movie, but I tend to laugh out of appreciation of good writing and often when I recognise a truthful moment being played out on screen (after all don't they say that the best laughs come from recognition?)
Bambauch seems to be intent on exploring neurotic, narcissistic and often repellent characters and Greenberg is no exception. Greenberg is a character who seems like he never fully evolved from adolescence. He is driven purely on impulse and is often contradicting himself. He keeps insisting that 'he doesn't need anyone' yet he has to be driven everywhere and anytime he's left alone he calls someone. Whenever he is in a scene with another character, you ask yourself why they put up with him and don't just walk out. But by the end of the film you can empathise with those characters, as everything about his character should make the audience inherently dislike him, but his wit and vulnerability make this an impossible task.
There are a few great, pithy lines of dialogue which have stayed with me from this film. The one which overscores the whole film seems to be 'hurt people, hurt people.' It seems like this idea has been at the core of all of Bambauch's films, he has now just found a succinct way to phrase it. On reflection, it really seems like they built the entire film around this concept which definitely makes for an interesting character study but lacks in plot. A common criticism of indie movies is that 'nothing happens!', this film could certainly fall prey to that critique, but I guess that just depends on how interested you are in exploring the psyche of such an eccentric character.
This film also captures probably the most awkward romance to ever play out on screen. There is one 'sex scene' in particular which will definitely make you cringe! As I'd mentioned earlier, at first it may seem difficult for the audience to understand what Florence sees in Greenberg, he has just recently come out of a mental institution after all. But even if Florence has not been clinically diagnosed with something, she's definitely an odd ball and you can see that she's just as lonely as he is.
In terms of performances both Ben Stiller and relative newcomer Greta Gerwig are outstanding as the two leads. Ben Stiller utilises his comedic timing perfectly and in the dramatic moments doesn't fall victim to what some other comedic actors do when forced to play serious and that is to underplay everything. I think that those other actors do it because they think they are 'being real' but real people are often big and expressive when they are distressed and Stiller portrays that perfectly. Greta Gerwig's character Florence is one of those people that you want to know more of and find out what makes her tick. Is she unbalanced? Is she drunk? Or is she just plain awkward? She definitely kept me guessing throughout the film.
Weirdly enough, I left the cinema feeling kind of ho-hum about this movie but as I've been thinking about it and analysing it over the last few days, I'm realising that I actually really like it! It's a combination of the fully realised characters, intriguing dialogue, the unconventional romance and truthful scenes which make for a fascinating film overall.