Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg as a jerk you might like, at times. Or you might like writer-director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding”) for making Greenberg dislikable. What’s not to like about “Greenberg” is Baumbach’s way of satirizing his own bicoastal cohort in a story co-credited to wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (co-director of “The Anniversary Party”), who is also one of this film’s producers. Uninsightful self-pity spoons with toothless self-loathing. After a stint in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown, Greenberg house-sits for three weeks in West Hollywood for his brother taking his family to Vietnam on a business trip to open a hotel. Left behind is their German Shepherd Mahler and their personal assistant Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig, “Hannah Takes the Stairs”). Greenberg builds a dog house for Mahler, who runs up a three-grand vet bill. The 42-year-old New York neurotic, a compulsive writer of complaint letters to American Airlines and Starbucks, also works on a relationship with 25-year-old Florence, a writer of alt-songs who gets an abortion. Greenberg tries to reconnect with a former girlfriend, played by Leigh, and a former bandmate (Rhys Ifans). Both have something like real lives. Baumbach’s lax irony works the song “It Never Rains In Southern California” into a cloudburst scene where panicky Greenberg asks, “Can the pool overflow?” He siphons off the rainwater. Greenberg is incompetent as a human being in banal ways. “Greenberg” is a minor comedy of manners about boundary issues. Feels like Woody Allen’s L.A. allergy and Steve Martin’s misanthropy pitched to a younger demographic, with throwaway nostalgia for cocaine and Duran Duran. With Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Juno Temple, Mark Duplass, Merritt Wever. 107m. (Bill Stamets)
“Greenberg” opens Friday at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.