Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Greenberg (Rhoades)

Ben Stiller’s Poignant Humor in “Greenberg”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I remember watching comedians Stiller and Meara on the old Ed Sullivan TV show, chuckling at their Abby’s Irish Rose act, him Jewish, his wife Irish, me never thinking about their future impact on my funny bone.

Anne Meara went on to do some nice dramatic roles (“Awakenings,” “Another Harvest Moon”), but it was Jerry Stiller who made TV sitcom history as part of the “Seinfeld” ensemble.
But it’s their son Ben who has changed the face of Hollywood comedies.

A very bankable star, Ben Stiller has cranked out such hits as “There’s Something About Mary,” “Tropic Thunder,” and the “Night at the Museum” series. As a Tinseltown insider, he shows up at the Academy Awards to poke fun at an addled Joaquin Phoenix or wearing blue Na’vi makeup he spoofs “Avatar.”

Now, in a quirky little indie film called “Greenberg,” he tries something different. As the title character, he’s a guy who finds himself adrift in life, attempting to forge a connection with another lost soul.

This week “Greenberg” is sharing its poignant laughs at the Tropic Cinema.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (himself the scion of famous parents, novelist Jonathan Baumbach and Village Voice critic Georgia Brown), “Greenberg” also features Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Chris Messina, and Jennifer Jason Leigh (herself the daughter of a famous parent, the late actor Vic Morrow). Baumbach and Leigh co-wrote the script.

So this second generation entourage has delivered a film that is both funny and touching. A delicate balance.

In it, a 40-year-old loser named Roger Greenberg (Stiller) has no job and doesn’t plan on looking for one. He goes to Los Angeles to housesit for his brother while the family’s away on vacation. There he meets up with his brother’s assistant Florence (Gerwig), an aspiring singer whose greatest success is open-mike night at local clubs. A match made in Woody Allen’s neurotic heaven, perhaps.

A failed musician, Greenberg tries to reconnect with his former bandmate (Ifans) and an old flame (Leigh) but discovers they’ve moved on with their lives.

He describes his own life as “doing nothing,” an echo of his dad’s “Seinfeld” premise. But there’s only so much nothing you can do, and he sets out to explore a relationship with Florence, discovering they have more in common than caring for his brother’s dog. Perhaps – just perhaps – rather than continuing his life as a sharp-tongued misanthrope he might actually find a reason to be happy.

Baumbach is best known for “The Squid and the Whale,” a semi-autobiographical film about two boys in Brooklyn dealing with their parents’ divorce. Here, he again explores emotions that ripple just under the surface of our civilized façade. And Ben Stiller is the perfect avatar to play out this message.

Even Ben acknowledges his parents’ influential role in his pursuit of humor. “If my parents were, like, plumbers,” he says, “who knows what I would be doing?”

[from Solares Hill]

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