Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) once was a musician, but now he is a carpenter and an inveterate writer of letters of complaint (to pet taxis, for instance, for not having a soft carpet for the paws of their passengers). After a stay at a mental institution, he arrives in LA to look after his brother’s house and dog while the family is away in Vietnam. He reconnects with an old friend from his band days (Rhys Ifans, a long way from his manic energy in Notting Hill), and circles around a stop-start romance with personal aid and professional doormat Florence (Greta Gerwig).
Stiller’s performance here reminds me of Adam Sandler’s in Punch-Drunk Love. In both cases, we have actors known for embodying a particular comic type: Sandler is the raging man-child, while Stiller is the sensitive soul prone to social catastrophe. And in both films, we see the actors working with a distinctive auteur (P.T. Anderson, Noah Baumbach) on a low-key comedy that is very much a film of personal expression (to borrow a term from William Bayer). Finally, the borderline art-house trappings and new gravitas notwithstanding, they are still playing recognizable versions of what they’ve always done. It’s just that what is a type of clown perfect for one form of comedy becomes a psychotic in the more realist version. At any rate, I find Stiller’s same-yet-different performance very interesting, and very good, and that goes for the other performers too, especially Gerwig, who nails Florence’s insecurities, naivete and strength. However, though I found the performances interesting, I didn’t find the characters that interesting. Greenberg is thoroughly repellent, and that’s fine, but he isn’t compelling. I found myself unable to care about what he would do or say next (partly because I had a pretty good idea of what that would be), and wished that Florence were the protagonist instead. Though her self-destructive crush on Greenberg is as inexplicable as it is nonsensical, and so she too tries our patience, she has enough off-beat quirks and surprising resilience to make her worth following around. This is, then, a film that is finely wrought, written and acted, but that is also rather static and distancing.
My reservations aside, this is a meticulously crafted film, and the transfer is of the same caliber. The colours are rich, but naturalistic. The flesh tones are excellent, and the blacks are deep but never murky (there’s a climactic nighttime party that is a fine example of what I’m talking about here). Grain and edge enhancement are not issues. The aspect ratio is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
This is a film that is very much about its script, and its dialogue, and said dialogue comes through as crisply and a clearly as one could possibly hope. The score is well served, too, though the surround aspects of the disc’s sound design are rather underwhelming, in that there simply isn’t much happening there. Even in scenes (like the aforementioned party) that would call for some action on the part of the rear speakers fail to deliver.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Greenberg: (3:25) A very brief, promotional piece. And this is the longest of the featurettes.
Greenberg Loves Los Angeles: (2:09) Baumbach and company discuss using how they wanted to shoot and feature LA in the film.
Noah Baumbach Takes a Novel Approach: (1:33) Barely 90 seconds for Baumbach to explain how he takes inspiration from Updike, Roth, Bellow and the like.
The features are so minimal as to be almost pointless. The film itself is well crafted, though I found it uninvolving. I am, it must be said, in a distinct minority here.