Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures


By - Mar 26th, 2010 04:00 am
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Poster courtesy of Focus Features

I realized as I watched Greenberg that I am missing something. I am missing a generation. Maybe two depending on how those are measured, and that too is unclear to me.

I just had a birthday which, if you just look at the numbers, means I am definitely old. I don’t feel old. Well, I do ache a little more than I would like and some stuff doesn’t work quite as well as I remember it working. But I don’t feel old. People that are my age when I speak to them are old, but not me.  Most of the time I am dealing with people who are a lot younger than I am, so it surprised me, when watching Greenberg, to realize that I must be missing a whole lot of what is going on with that group of people in their twenties, thirties and forties who populate the film, and who are also the people that I tend to know.

Maybe I’m just not paying attention. This is something that happens when you get old.  Or so I read.

The people in the film are alien to me. They are written and acted to represent real people, but they don’t have anything like the values or concerns that the people I know have. Maybe it’s because they are mostly people of privilege, people with money and who have always had money,but never had to work for it. Or maybe it’s geographical, as the film takes place in Los Angeles. But then again, I lived and worked in Los Angeles for a long time and none of the people I met were as self-absorbed or as unthinking as the people in this film.( And I knew a lot of actors, who are noted for their self absorption.)

The title character is played by Ben Stiller. Roger Greenberg, a former musician, now a carpenter, is house-sitting his well-to-do brother’s house and dog while they are on a long vacation in Vietnam. Roger has decided to “do nothing.” It is pretty nearly a philosophy with him. Stiller’s edgy nervousness works against this self-characterization so there is some confusion as to how committed to doing nothing Roger really is. He actively tries to sleep with pretty much anyone who stops by, does whatever drugs are in the neighborhood and pursues old friends fairly vigorously in particular Ivan (played by Rhys Ifans),who personifies much better what Greenberg claims to personify, which, as I said earlier, is a dedication to nothingness.

As Stiller portrays him, Greenberg exhibits what might be classified as bi-polar behavior, but I don’t think this is intended as a disease-of-the-week type movie, and even though the other characters forgive some of his behavior because “he just got out of a mental home,” nothing is ever made of this.

In fact I don’t think that anyone actually forgives Greenberg; I think they just don’t notice that he is an obnoxious prick, because they are so involved in their own self-absorbed lives. Everyone is pretty glib, and no one makes contact or achieves or even yearns for what we used to call intimacy. Is this what the younger generation is actually like? Are people really so remarkably untouched by each other? Or is this just another Hollywood insider’s version of reality posing as “the way it is?”

Greenberg opens today at the Oriental Theatre, directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Categories: Movies

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