Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hurt People Hurt People

This may sound funny, but ... While watching the new film Greenberg, I couldn't help but think of The Blind Side. That latter film, and particularly the performance by its star, was surely helped by its end-of-the-year release. Had it been released around now, would Sandra Bullock's work have been praised as much as it was? And by extension, would Ben Stiller have been Oscar nominated for his performance here if Greenberg had been released in November? Was Sandy's performance that much better than Stiller's? I guess we'll never know the answers, but the questions surely crossed my mind.

In Greenberg, Stiller stars as Roger Greenberg, a misanthropic New Yorker, who comes to Los Angeles to house- and dog-sit while his brother's family is on vacation in Vietnam. While he's there, he falls for his brother's personal assistant (Greta Gerwig) and reconnects with an old friend (Rhys Ifans) and an ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

The film was written and directed by Noah Baumbach, and while it's still got the filmmaker's trademark dysfunctionality, it's not as caustic or cringe-worthy as others of his films, like Margot at the Wedding or The Squid and the Whale. Mostly, that's due to the performance of Stiller, who says all the wrong things, but remains a warm and likable man-child throughout, who you can't help but root for (and laugh with). Call this film a stretch if you want, but it seems like this is the kind of role that's gift-wrapped for a guy like Stiller (or Jim Carrey), who wants to show a deeper side without being a total downer, and Stiller does a real nice job with it.

As good as Stiller is, however, the real find is Gerwig. An indie movie favorite, this is her breakout role and she makes the most of it, giving a sweet, charming performance. Greenberg may be Stiller's showcase, but it's Gerwig who gives the film its real heart.

Those questions about release timing persist, because it would be nice to see Stiller and Gerwig get some recognition at year's end. Will they? Wait and see. Until then, Greenberg gets a B+ from me.



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