Noah Baumbach is a filmmaker who tends to divide audiences. But love or loath him, there’s no doubt that his unique – some might say solipsistic – world view is expertly written. After etching a sizable cult niche with The Squid and the Whale, and to a lesser extent Margot at the Wedding, Baumbach takes on a new pocket of irrational, indie domesticity in Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller). A 40-something New Yorker, fresh from a breakdown and well down the road to bitter, Greenberg fills his days compulsively applying chapstick and penning rants to various consumer companies he feels have slighted him. House and dogsitting for his well-to-do brother Phillip (Chris Messina) brings Greenberg to LA and into the life of housekeeper and younger lost soul Florence (Greta Gerwig).
Abrasively narcissistic to her quietly ingratiating, Greenberg and Florence fashion themselves a friendship of sorts, including what must surely be this year’s most exquisitely awkward sex scene. It’s partially a relationship of convenience, with Greenberg stranded sans drivers’ license and Florence keen to keep the boss’ brother happy, and yet through their encounters Baumbach and his wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh manage to create some layered, ruefully funny character studies. Their navel gazing screenplay is helped along by perfect casting in Stiller, Gerwig and Rhys Ifans as Greenberg’s harried ‘best’ friend Ivan.
Greenberg the person is as much of an acquired taste as the film, however for those able to stomach the bitterness, Baumbach’s take on an opportunity squandered is surprisingly poignant.
Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 22 July 2010