Ben Stiller tones down on his over-reaching style, but not on his trademark hubris in the recent film Greenberg. Stiller plays 40 year old Roger Greenberg, who has bowed out of the career-driven culture around him, refusing what he sees as the blind drive for success according to the rules of an indifferent society. Despite the carefree lifestyle he champions, he has recently been released from the hospital on the east coast after a “nervous breakdown” and moves in with his brother on the west coast in order to have a bit of respite from his life in New York. Roger fills his time listening to tunes on his ipod, building a dog house, and getting to know his brother’s housekeeper, Greta, with whom he begins to forge a romantic bond.
Roger Greenbu\erg’s character is interesting more than it is likable. You can’t help but hold out hopes for him. Not high hopes, mind you. Little hopes, maybe. Hope that some small redemption might come his way. He seems to thwart whatever blessings he may receive, whatever commitments that might require more of him than he feels able to give. His ideologies are mostly spurious, his capacity for pretensious self-preservation is fairly limitless. And his obsessions and quirks seem more like a patchwork of OCD oddities than elements of a well-thought-out character.
When he finally seems about to lose all of his old friendships, and his new relationship with Greta, he begins to reconsider the trajectory of his life. The change is an encouraging one, and satisfying in a mild way. When he finds himself at a party with a croud of 20-something-year-olds, he indulges in several kinds of drugs, loses his best friend, gets beat up, guards a vulnerable dog that he is growing attached to, and begins to let go of the way of life that he has held tightly to for 20 years.
Greenberg is a good character piece, and Florence Marr is compelling as the vulnerable Greta, who is much smarter than she lets on. The film is good, familiar, down-to-earth conversationalist movie making, like a mumblecore film that has grown up a bit more than its predecessors. Good, but not great. It may even move you, and help you to hold on to the things that matter to you, or the relationships that will drift or erode if you let them.