Movie review: "Greenberg"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Roger Greenberg is not likable.

He's bristly, over-delicate and defensive. He's thoroughly neurotic and apparently incapable of treating anyone well.

Yet this unlikable guy is the heart of the movie I've loved the most this year, writer-director Noah Baumbach's awkward, funny and sweet "Greenberg."

Baumbach sticks Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a quintessential fortyish uptight New Yorker, in the sunny confines of Los Angeles, where Roger house-sits while his more-successful brother vacations with the wife and kids.

A coulda-shoulda former musician, Roger passes his time dog-paddling in his brother's pool and writing irate letters to Starbucks corporate headquarters. His encounters with his brother's personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), lead to a guarded flirtation.

Greenberg is essentially Jesse Eisenberg's character in Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale" if his entire adult life was as dysfunctional as his childhood. And he's probably a version of the director himself, which would explain the painful honesty (plus, the story was co-written by Baumbach's wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh).

As long as you don't mind discomfort (and nervous, clumsy sex), the laughs are warm, smart and plentiful. Stiller brings a wry energy to his character, and it's one of his best performances, comedic or otherwise.

But it's Gerwig who makes it all work as the warm and upbeat counterpoint who sees something in Greenberg he can't quite see himself.

Baumbach builds a love story that, in many ways, reminded me of "Punch-Drunk Love," all odd and fumbling and lovely. It's one of the year's best.


Opens Friday at the Gateway

Grade: A