Greenberg ★★★★

It's hard not to liken Roger Greenberg to Barry Egan, and at times to their respective films. Both are neurotic losers in a realism-tinged fairy tale, at odds with expressing themselves with exceptionally charming romantic interests (not to mention starring traditionally comedic actors in a comparatively dramatic role). Though Greenberg is, in my opinion, a lesser film than Punch-Drunk Love thanks to the character of Roger being a more overt asshole and more difficult to 'root' for, both left me with the same warm and fuzzy feeling that accompanies the 'loser makes good' storyline.

Noah Baumbach grounds this film very well, which in turn accentuates the fantastical nature of how his characters act and think. The mundanity of the situations presented - from caring for a sick dog to trying (and failing) to reconnect with your past - all seem like plausible real-world scenarios, but what elevates the film from good to great is the way Baumbach hits that uncanny valley of human reactions to these mundane events. The earliest example of this dichotomy between realism and fantasy is a simple sequence of Greta Gerwig's Florence driving through L.A. It's a bit of a struggle to describe, but the selection of shots connote that Baumbach is purposefully trying to show natural reactions, and that purposefulness makes them unnatural. It's the oft-mentioned magic act deliberately exposed but still performed. It's self-aware in its falseness, and by establishing that within the first few shots, the suspension of disbelief, by being eliminated early on, allows for everything that follows to play by Baumbach's rules. I can imagine that that assertion of control by Baumbach over the audience and his films' definition of reality can come off feeling extremely pretentious, but, for me, it was wonderfully relaxing - I felt no pressure to critique the preposterous actions within the film and was simply allowed to let Baumbach drive. To make another example in terms of the film, it's like watching a puppet show where the strings and sticks are always visible, but the show itself is rooted in the fact that the characters are puppets.

Wow, that last paragraph was way too long, way too tangential, and way too defensive. Still, I got a generous kick out of Greenberg. Stiller has done better (most notably in The Royal Tenenbaums), but he still manages to impress here, even as an almighty dick, in creating pathos for a character with obvious mental issues. And, as above, Greta Gerwig is a revelation. Not only in her natural beauty, but in her chemistry with nearly everyone on screen - although that might be more of a projection on my part. I need, want, must see more of her, and realizing that her and Baumbach collaborated in the recent Frances Ha has exponentially increased my desire to check that one out. Though I can certainly see people's complaints with Greenberg as a whole - the pretentiousness, the aimlessness, and the unlikeability of Greenberg himself just to name a few - I'd have a tough time agreeing with anyone who found issue with her performance, and, by extension, Florence's character in this film.