Greta Gerwig is adorable, witty, expressive and downright perfect in this quite peculiar dramedy.
It’s US director Noah Baumbach’s seventh movie about a bunch of narcissistic white people at a philosophical crossroads. But even Gerwig – as the muddled young nanny Florence – can’t pump fresh life into a film weighed down by Ben Stiller’s insistence on being wantonly dull.
He plays Roger Greenberg, a 40-year old carpenter (of sorts) committed to “doing nothing” while house-sitting in LA for his out-of-town, estranged brother. We’re supposed to feel sorry for the character – recently discharged from a psychiatric unit – but there’s little explanation of what he’s coping with and any empathy instead turns to irritation. My heart sank whenever Gerwig’s powerhouse performance was substituted for yet another blunt shot of Stiller writing at a table. And let’s not even bother with Rhys Ifans’ bit-part role as a rummy Welshman who stands in hallways with his mouth open. Frankly, his blotchy y-fronts – which we see a lot of – are his most expressive faculty.
What saves Greenberg (apart from Greta) are several scenes which encapsulate what was so gripping about The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming and Frances Ha. Florence has numerous, but Roger few.
During an unplanned house-party, Stiller scrambles from each potential coke-addled pitfall to another. The stomach-clenchingly brusque way Baumbach has of saying, “look here viewer, this is life, it’s fucked,” is plain to see. As in Frances Ha it’s horribly awkward, but beautifully communicates a character’s absolute disorientation, and actually makes them – take notes Stiller – LIKEABLE.
Greenberg’s foot-stomping soundtrack and excellent leading lady kick-started the Noah-Greta indie parade (Frances Ha, While We’re Young, Mistress America) and for that we’re thankful. Greenberg does have some stellar moments I’ll admit, they just all contain one, glorious actor. And that’s a screen-test, not a movie.