If you can't see
Noah Baumbach's Greenberg in 3D, then don't see it. I
saw it in two dimensions and I wasn't impressed. The whining,
pastiness, moping, indecision and unpleasantness all felt flat.
I'm sure, though, that in 3D all that misery would have popped
right out of the screen. I would have been immersed in the shoegazing
hipster scene of Silver Lake, California. I would have looked
down and found my brown cardigan buttoned to the top, and my
Converse sneakers unlaced.
And the movie would
still suck ass, because that shit is an insular world that only
its participants think is fascinating.
Ben Stiller plays
the movie's titular character, a slack 40-year-old returned
to Los Angeles after being gone for fifteen years. When he left,
he was a musician. When he returns he's a lazy carpenter fresh
from a mental institute. He's having a hard time coming to grips
with the reality that he's fucked up half his life, and the
better half at that. That there are younger, more interesting
kids out there who still have time to make mistakes and be idealists.
Stiller takes up
residence in his wealthy brother's vacant home, a place where
he can fulfill his dream of doing nothing. He should take care
of the family dog, a German Shepherd who is the most likable
thing in the movie, but he lets that job fall to his brother's
assistant, a 25-year-old slacker played by Greta Gerwig, a mumblecore
veteran. Mumblecore is supposed to be veritÈ, naturalistic moviemaking
about small moments and real-life. Mostly it's just really fucking
annoying, like short stories written by self-absorbed undergraduates
with very limited life experience and little to say, yet who
feel they need to say it. While Greenberg has too big
a budget and too much scripting to be mumblecore, it still has
the problems of self-absorption and irrelevance.
Before long in Greenberg,
the whiny, self-absorbed Stiller and the punching-bag Gerwig
are circling, trying to decide whether they will fuck each other
or hate each other. Stiller wants to screw. Yet, he doesn't,
see, because he's a self-sabotaging prick. I guess he figures
that if he louses everything up early on, then he can't fail
spectacularly later. Gerwig wants to screw, or maybe she doesn't.
She doesn't have a clue what she wants, though attention and
affection would be nice. Why she wants it from an old asshole
is not clear to me.
The dog gets sick,
and while Stiller and Gerwig fight-screw-fight, its illness
forces them to stay in contact so they can fight and screw more.
Like in a very serious
short story, not much happens on the screen in Greenberg.
This is a big fucking problem with people who consider themselves
serious storytellers. They try to tell stories without being
obvious. They don't want to tell you what to think or how the
story ends because that would be too easy and conventional.
The thing is, it's easier to think you're a sensitive genius
than it is to actually be one. When you try and fail, your story
doesn't end artfully. It just doesn't end. When you try to be
vague with your message, you can end up having no point. The
trick is not to be afraid of coming to conclusions or judging
your characters. The trick is doing it so cleverly that your
audience doesn't realize when you've done it. Greenberg
is artless and pointless in a very detailed way. There is plenty
of effort and precision, but little insight.
As director and writer,
Baumbach seems to know his two main characters quite well. He
illustrates a million different details of why Stiller's character
is a whiny-ass annoying, selfish prick. Yet, he isn't interesting,
which is what movie characters should always be. They don't
have to be likable, just intriguing enough to carry us for a
couple hours. Stiller is well defined and probably very realistic,
but he never moves beyond being a fucker you don't want to spend
time with. Not even in a movie.
Maybe the argument
for Greenberg is that Stiller and Gerwig are real people;
surely you know someone like them. Well, I don't. I know
a lot of assholes, and Stiller is an amalgam of many bad traits:
obsessive-compulsive, solipsistic, self-loathing, cruel, lazy,
insecure. But people this fucked up are easy to spot a mile
away and then to avoid. They don't strike me as representing
something larger or more important. Not unless you really think
all of the fauxhemians in Silver Lake matter. Here in Arvada,
I sure as hell don't.
Or maybe the argument
for the movie is it's real life. It is small moments, just like
in real life, and seeing how they add up to make a whole. The
problem is I don't want to pay ten fucking dollars to watch
real life. I can walk out the door to see that. And these don't
really add up to much. A good movie shows us enhanced life that,
even when it looks real, is more interesting and engaging. Just
trying to replicate real life is mimicry.
However its existence
is justified, Greenberg is awful to sit through. It doesn't
have a point, it doesn't seek to redeem its characters, or force
us to see them in a different light. Sure, toward the end Stiller
has a couple of confessional moments, but those are expected.
Every asshole has a reason for being an asshole. It doesn't
make their selfishness any less so. And with so many ways to
depict an interesting jerk, or to simply be more interesting,
Greenberg seems to be too in love with the wrong people
to be worth the money and time it requires.
for Greenberg. I know the hoodie hipsters and the shoegazing,
Kant-reading phonies think they matter. But fuck it if they
can explain to me why. They look 2D to me.
to tell Filthy Something?