It always feels slightly off when a comic actor takes on a serious role.
It always feels slightly off when a comic actor takes on a serious role. Not that Ben Stiller hasn't proven his flexibility with fare like Reality Bites or Friends & Neighbors, but never before has he seemed so straight-faced, vulnerable, and well, depressing, as he does in Noah Baumbach's latest Greenberg. In fact, it took a few scenes for me to settle in to Stiller as Roger, a 40-year old with severe social and mental anxiety. His face is tired, there's no sense of a smirk — even Stiller's gray hair is on display (Derek Zoolander would not be pleased).
The film follows Roger as he returns from a recent institutional visit (due to a nervous breakdown) to house-sit for his brother Phillip (Chris Messina). He spends his days writing angry letters to Starbucks and Mayor Bloomberg, and looks on as neighbors play in the backyard pool, afraid of human contact. The only lifeline Roger actually makes is the family's personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig) and their German shepherd.
Almost immediately, Florence and Roger hop into a bumbling courtship. Roger seems drawn to her mid-twenties youth; Florence, in turn, is grappling with quarterlife uncertainty about life, and in Roger she sees someone much older who hasn't figured it all out either. It seems feasible that they'd get together, but not quite as likely that she'd put up with him. Basically, Roger is a very unlikeable guy, and like most Baumbach movies, his human flaws are both intriguing — and painful — to watch.
To see what I mean, read more