Another Shade of Monster
Director Noah Baumbach finds yet another way to explore his favorite topic -- human monsters, what makes them tick, and the damage they do to others -- with Greenberg. This time Ben Stiller plays the "monster," Roger Greenberg, a recent nervous breakdown survivor from New York who stays at his brother's Los Angeles home for some downtime while the brother is away on vacation.
Like the corresponding characters from The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, Roger is intelligent and creative, but also self-absorbed and extremely defensive -- and, as we get to know him, we see that his horrible behaviors stem not from a sense of snobby superiority but from personal psychological wounds and a badly cross-wired defense mechanism which uses ego as a shield and belittlement as a sword.
Baumbach's movie once again walks a fine line between being off-putting and being fascinating in its character study, and for me the positives win out, with help from Stiller in a strong, controlled performance outside his usual schtick, and Greta Gerwig as a kind but passive love interest who gives the film's key line, "Hurt people hurt people."
It's interesting to see how Baumbach can extract so many shades of his favored particular character type, but I'm starting to wonder how long he can keep this up and hold our attention, because we now know fairly well what to expect (also, in the arc of characters from his three last films, each successive character gets closer to a subtle sense of redemption -- actual redemption would be the arc's logical and least informative endpoint). I, for one, would be curious to see what he could do with a different kind of realistic, damaged personality. We all know there's plenty to choose from.
(Released by Focus Features and rated "R" for strong sexuality, drug use and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.