Thoughts On “Greenberg”

Cocaine-fueled neuroses: always a good recipe for light, breezy comedy.

 

Greenberg (2010)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Noah Baumbach, Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans
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Admittedly, I wasn’t paying attention this past decade, so it took me a while to realize the potency of quirky-savant, Noah Baumbach’s unique style as a writer and director.  And it wasn’t until I saw his latest movie, Greenberg, that I took the time to reexamine his body work on IMDb and think about what it is that makes his movies linger in my thoughts so long after I see them.

In the interest of candor, I will note that I exempt Margot at the Wedding from any praise I have to offer Baumbach, because that movie pretty much sucked. I do recall, however, being particularly moved by The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach’s autobiographical story about two young boys dealing with their parents’ divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s. Having first seen it circa 2006, I recall, more than anything else, its eery authenticity. I guess the easiest way to explain what I mean by that would be to simply confess that as a child of the 1980s, my perception of the movie was most impacted by one thing: corduroy pants.

Specifically, the corduroy pants and other historically-accurate clothing items worn by the two boys stuck with me, because scene after scene, I thought to myself that those kids’ clothes came straight out of the pictures of me as a toddler in my mom’s old photo albums. (I actually get the same feeling when I watch Kramer vs. Kramer.) And though seemingly fickle, I think Baumbach’s ability to powerfully strike such a nuanced cord is a testament to his skill as a director.

As a writer, Baumbach is quite versatile. In fact, I didn’t realize until after I saw Greenberg that he also had a hand in writing the satirical gem, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But after that, Baumbach went dark with The Squid and the Whale, and then darker with the crap-melodrama, Margot at the Wedding. So, after probably realizing the shittiness of the latter, Baumbach relinquished his heavy pen to get re-acclimated with his lighter one.

And with it, he penned Greenberg, in which he successfully layers subtle, high-brow comedy over darker, more serious themes. The movie stars Ben Stiller as a neurotic New Yorker who, fresh out of the nut house, moves to L.A. to house-sit for his brother with the simultaneous desire to “do nothing.” While there, he rekindles friendships with his estranged high school buds and begrudgingly falls in love with the quaint but damaged personal assistant of his brother’s family.

In a way, Greenberg, is Baumbach’s greatest work to date – and while I am sure diehard movie and/or Baumbach fans will snobbishly heave at that statement, I say it because I feel this movie is the most all-inclusive display of Baumbach’s varied talents. Like his work with Wes Anderson, the movie is artfully witty. Ben Stiller seems to have been a natural fit for the role, as he showed that he can stretch his comedic range to serviceably encompass the Anderson/Baumbach brand of comedy in The Royal Tenenbaums; albeit, his performance in Greenberg was much better, as it gave him a chance to act dramatically under the guise of a “comedic performance.” That is not to say that he wasn’t very funny, because he was. Rather, the role allowed him to sneak in a terrific acting performance for an audience expecting only to see him be funny.

In my favorite scene of the movie, Greenberg’s free-spirited, college-aged niece unexpectedly imposes a rager of a house party on Greenberg. In the darker-themes sense, this sequence highlights Greenberg’s instability and the unpredictable avenues toward self-destruction that open to him as a result. By way of comedy, however, we get to watch Greenberg go from ferociously cleaning and policing the party to blowing lines of cocaine off a mirror with the 20ish year old-guests (definitely Stiller’s best coked-up performance since the disco dance-off in Starskey & Hutch). And as you can imagine, Greenberg’s cocaine-fueled neuroses are immensely enjoyable, as he goes from rapidly explaining his paranoia about generation-Y, to swapping out the kids’ Korn CD for a Duran Duran “record” (because it’s “much better coke music”), to proffering (almost to himself), “I’ve been thinking about getting back into drugs.”

Stylistically, Baumbach drapes a 1970s-Los Angeles veil over the entire movie, just as he did with 1980s-Brooklyn in The Squid and the Whale. In fact, it wasn’t until a reference to e-mail about 10 minutes in that I realized Greenberg takes place in the present day.

And whether its that retro-effect or some other component of his filmmaking, Baumbach has a way of making his movies stick in your subconscious by provoking contemporaneous thought. For example, at the beginning of Greenberg, there is a long continuous shot of the female lead (played by Greta Gerwig) driving in her car, listening to “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller Band. The shot is almost uncomfortably long, causing the audience to hear much more of “Jet Airliner” than one would otherwise expect to hear of a song in a movie. The audience can’t help but notice and as the song keeps playing, the audience has time to internally reflect: ‘Man, this is a really long shot…I can’t believe it’s still going… This is a really great song though… Do I have it on my iPod?… No I don’t think I do… If not, I’ll download it.’

And just like that, Baumbach has miraculously anchored his movie in your mind. So when you go to download “Jet Airliner” later on, or every time you hear it thereafter, you reflexively think of the relatively unremarkable actress driving her bland little car in that quirky, little movie, Greenberg.

3/5 Stars

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Super Bowl Sunday Special

Song at the end of the 80’s football classic, Wildcats.

 


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Personal Interests: Salisbury steak, Mary Rowengartner, pitching, coaching little league.

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The Devastating Effects Marijuana

…on the User:

 

…and on the Family:

___________________


RE: Emilio – I think weed was probably the only drug he wasn’t on during that performance.

RE: Reverend Camden – Definitely not on drugs, but definitely has a bong up his butt.

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Deleted Scenes Sampler – Step Brothers/Knocked Up Edition

One from Step Brothers. Two from Knocked Up.

I’ve Done All the Numbers



Kuni Gone Wild

 

 

Brokeback Jonah

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High Profile Bio-Pics on the Horizon

While Hollywood has always looked to the lives of interesting or historically important figures as sources of subject matter, it seems that the studios have developed a renewed interest in high profile bio-pics over the past decade. With the critical and commercial success of such movies as “Ray,” “Walk the Line,”  “Capote,” “The Aviator,” and “Milk,” it’s no wonder that the A-list of Hollywood directors and actors are signing on left and right to tackle some history’s more complex individuals.

Personally, my ears perk up whenever I hear of an upcoming movie that pairs a high-profile director with a high-profile actor or subject matter. With that in mind, be on the look out for these movies that are now in the works:

1. Lincoln
Director Steven Spielberg takes on the most revered President in American history with two time Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood) signed on to play the title role. If this weren’t enough reason to be excited, the script will be written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Tony Kushner (Angels in America).

2. Sinatra
Oscar winning director and film icon Martin Scorsese will direct the big screen movie about the colorful life of entertainment legend Frank Sinatra. While there has apparently been no official casting, Scorsese was quoted in The Hindu, a daily Indian newspaper, as saying he had “yet to spot” the actor who might bring back Sinatra alive on screen, but added: “My choice is Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro as Dean Martin.”

3. Hoover
Producer Ron Howard has teamed up with the legendary Clint Eastwood to direct the bio-pic of J. Edgar Hoover, perhaps one of the most fascinating American figures of the 20th Century (take a look at his wikipedia page.) And who better to portray the tortured, cloak-and-dagger guru than Leonardo DiCaprio, who is rumored to be the guy for this one.

Other Projects of Note:

  • Competing bio-pics of Princess Diana, the first rumored to involve Charlize Theron as Di and Ewan McGregor as Prince Charles, and the second to involve Keira Knightly (or Scarlett Johansson) as Di and Dame Helen Mirren as her mother.
  • A 2pac bio-pic directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, Brooklyn’s Finest) and written by Oscar-nominated team of writers, Stephen J. Rivele and Chris Wilkinson (AliNixon).
  • Antoine Fuqua is also currently working on a bio-pic of Columbian drug titan, Pablo Escobar.
  • Andrea Berloff – who co-wrote director Oliver Stone’s 2006 9/11 drama World Trade Center – has been hired by New Line Cinema to write the script for Straight Outta Compton, the true-life story of the infamous rap music group, N.W.A.
  • Naomi Watts is set to star in a biopic of Marilyn Monroe, based on a controversial book which detailed the actress’s love affairs and encounters on the casting couch. The movie, titled Blonde, is reportedly slated to start filming in January, and it will be directed by Andrew Dominik, the moviemaker behind The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
  • Planned bio-pics of music legends Bob Marley, Janus Joplin, and Marvin Gaye are also reportedly in the works, but the filmmakers have found difficulty obtaining the rights to their subjects’ songs.

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That is Correct Remix

How I spend two hours on a saturday afternoon:

 

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