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Greenberg DVD Review

Greenberg movie poster Greenberg

Theatrical Release: March 19, 2010 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Noah Baumbach / Writers: Noah Baumbach (story & screenplay), Jennifer Jason Leigh (story)

Cast: Ben Stiller (Roger Greenberg), Greta Gerwig (Florence Marr), Rhys Ifans (Ivan Schrank), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Beth), Mark Duplass (Eric Beller), Merritt Wever (Gina), Chris Messina (Phillip Greenberg), Brie Larson (Sara), Juno Temple (Muriel), Susan Traylor (Carol Greenberg), Mina Badie (Peggy), Zach Chassler (Marlon), Chris Coy (Guy at Gallery), Nora Isela Monterosso (Female Vet), Jake Paltrow (Johno), Blair Tefkin (Megan), Dave Franco (Rich), Max Hoffman (Jerry), Ramona Gonzalez (Anita), Alessandra Balazs (Olivia), Layla Delridge (Girl with Beer)
Greenberg is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Greenberg ranks 74th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

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Ben Stiller may be one of this century's highest-grossing actors, but he's never struck me as mere movie star. Maybe it's the years of legwork he put in before his decidedly non-nepotistic success. Maybe it's his capable work behind-the-camera as writer, director, and producer. Maybe it's the funny talk show and award ceremony appearances that show us the smart awareness to the man behind the nervous everyman of blockbuster uncomfortable comedies.

Whatever the case, Stiller didn't feel out of place as one of the stunted grown-up child geniuses of Wes Anderson's quirky contemporary classic The Royal Tenenbaums. Nor does he feel at all miscast as the star of the newest film written and directed by Anderson's occasional collaborator Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale).

Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, the opinionated, dependent Hollywood-house-sitting protagonist of Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg."

In Greenberg, Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a 40-year-old man recently released from a mental hospital where he was treated for a nervous breakdown. Roger, who has adopted New York City as his place, returns to his hometown of Los Angeles to housesit for his well-off brother (Chris Messina) whose family is taking a 6-week vacation in Vietnam.

Roger is quite the character. He has decided not to do anything for the time being, a lifestyle choice he only ignores in drafting dissatisfied customer letters to major corporations and doing the odd bit of carpentry. Remarkably self-centered, Roger rubs many people the wrong way.
Among the abraded are his peers from fifteen years ago: the bandmates whose musical aspirations he seems to forget smashing and the long-settled ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who attaches far less significance than he to their squandered relationship.

Fortunately for Roger, there are two people who can tolerate him and transport him (Roger swore off driving as a New Yorker). His old Welsh college chum Ivan (Rhys Ifans) to whose current soul-crushing marital breakdown Roger remains oblivious. And Roger's brother's diligent 25-year-old personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), who is polite and patient, if timid and a bit scattered. Roger and Florence form a sloppy relationship, the seriousness of which neither can agree upon. She is unfamiliar with all of his dated pop culture references and he doesn't seem crazy about her generation, but they bond while getting care for Mahler, the sick family dog.

Unnoticedly damaged best friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) accompanies Greenberg to what is unhappily determined to be a "children's party." Florence (Greta Gerwig) tells what she thinks is an amusing, relevant story, only to find her listener (Greenberg) angered by it.

If you've seen any of Noah Baumbach's previous films, A) good for you, and B) you already know about his unique style. Baumbach writes mundane situations and relatable characters, revealing parts of himself including the finger he keeps on the human thought process. Stiller's titular antihero could easily be an aged version of one of the college graduates of 1995's Kicking and Screaming or the pseudo-intellectual 1980s teen protagonist of The Squid and the Whale. All of these individuals, filled with uncertainty and self-doubt, are too realistic not to reflect aspects of Baumbach's personality.

That authenticity is what makes Baumbach's films crackle. The more contemporary film that I see, the more I recognize how much of it is trivial entertainment, escapes easily digestible by teens and common folk and not making more than the rare astute observation on human behavior. Don't get me wrong; I love movies more than any other form of communication (or art) and find something redeeming about most. But seeing hundreds each year makes it easier to appreciate one that doesn't get wrapped up in convention, marketability, or appeal. Greenberg is such a film and it hits on a number of delicious truths and palpable social challenges. Many of the insights deal with the search for purpose upon hitting middle age, and others do something similar for one's twenties. But even while being that specific, the film is universally wise and comforting.

It's also incredibly funny. Baumbach's humorous script (which includes some delightfully random movie references) deserves much of the credit for that, but Stiller's deliveries help. In the typical Stiller comedy, he is the entry point, easily identifiable and sympathetic amidst chaos. Here, whirlwind Roger is blissfully unaware of his insensitive tendency to rant without listening. He is likably unlikable, slightly distanced but always with a logic to his passions, impulses, and misanthropic remarks. It is an interesting persona brought to life in a spirited, committed performance. It's not alone, either, as Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans also take great strides to give their compelling characters depth and subtle charms. Even Chris Messina, who's quickly established himself as a perfect actor for this kind of film, injects life in an amusing largely unseen turn.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) drafts another dissatisfied customer letter, evidently his favorite pastime. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who receives story credit alongside her husband Baumbach, plays one of the old friends with whom Greenberg reconnects.

Though it seems to take a few missteps, as in introducing a distasteful plot point or loading up its lead on illegal drugs at a moderately rowdy twentysomething party late in the film, Greenberg reveals sound reasons for making these necessary stops on its witty, offbeat journey.

At the risk of sounding overly fawning, I feel obligated to point out and praise one piece of minutia that most will overlook. Baumbach is one of the rare filmmakers who knows how to display a fake telephone number,
leaving digits obscured or out of frame instead of using that standard fake 555 area code that pulls you out of the film's reality. Other directors, please take note.

Mark Ruffalo was originally cast as the star of Greenberg, but he bowed out after his brother's newsmaking, seemingly unsolved December 2008 death. For some reason, Amy Adams (a good nine years older than Gerwig) followed Ruffalo out instead of reteaming with her Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian love interest.

Stiller didn't seem to have a tremendous effect on the film's financial prospects. Perhaps that's unsurprising, because Baumbach makes the typically uncommercial Wes Anderson look mainstream. Earning just over $4 million domestically, Greenberg ranks among the few 2000s Ben Stiller films not to get noticed at the box office (it outgrossed only a handful of barely-released films to whom Stiller lent support or made cameos). At the same time, Greenberg also goes down as one of the actor's best-reviewed films of all-time.

Buy Greenberg on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $11.66 (Reduced from $29.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($39.98 $16.24 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Greenberg represents Noah Baumbach's first time directing in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but as usual, the focus is more on content than visuals. Still, the film looks quite nice in the DVD's anamorphic widescreen transfer. The color palette is slightly muted and the picture remains sharp and clean. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is fairly reserved, most prominently presenting the tactful jazzy score by dance-punk musician James Murphy.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach gets no more than a minute to discuss his rich, personal comedy in the DVD's three short bonus featurettes. Recycling the film's theatrical poster design, the DVD's menus don't try hard to fill in the vast whiteness.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

On DVD, Greenberg is joined by three startlingly slight extras.

"A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Greenberg" (3:22) is basically an extended trailer for the film
which includes a few Stiller, Ifans, and Gerwig sound bites among the promotionally-narrated preview.

"Greenberg Loves Los Angeles" (2:05) sheds some light on Baumbach's interesting decision to set the film in LA as he knows it.

Likewise devoting half of its short runtime to clips, "Noah Baumbach Takes a Novel Approach" (1:30) gathers some comments on the film's character-driven storytelling.

As a DVD critic and ravenous viewer, I've grown a little immune to the charms of bonus features. And yet here, after all the hours I've devoted to audio commentaries and deleted scenes attached to lesser films, I wish we could have gotten to hear more from Baumbach and see some discarded bits here. It's not as if Baumbach has been averse to having his films joined by special features and more extensive remarks. It also would have been nice to get the film's trailer, memorably heard on Zach Galifianakis' "Between Two Ferns" Internet show, which included at least one deleted joke. At least Greenberg can be credited with speaking for itself.

The DVD opens with the trailer for The Kids Are All Right, an overview of the different home video formats out there today and DVD promos for Repo Men, "House": Season 6, and Green Zone.

Recalling the film's poster art, the simple, predominantly white scored menus place listings in thought bubbles.

Roger (Ben Stiller) and Florence (Greta Gerwig) wait to be seen by the veterinarian regarding immunally-challenged dog Mahler.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A captivating and very funny character study, Noah Baumbach's Greenberg easily ranks as one of the best films of 2010 so far. Obviously, this is not the typical outrageous Ben Stiller romantic comedy vehicle, but it entertains more than most of those while speaking on the human condition.

Delivering under seven minutes of promotional, clip-heavy featurettes, Universal's DVD is kind of a dud as far as extras go. But the feature presentation is commendable and the film is too substantial to ignore over bonus features. Do give this one a look. If you like it, you should try to see Baumbach's creative earlier works as well.

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Related Reviews:
New: A Single Man Brooklyn's Finest A Star is Born (Deluxe Edition) Chloe Middle of Nowhere
Whatever Works Away We Go Adventureland Funny People Zombieland A Serious Man Julie & Julia
From Noah Baumbach: Margot at the Wedding | Co-Written by Noah Baumbach: Fantastic Mr. Fox The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Ben Stiller: The Heartbreak Kid Tropic Thunder Night at the Museum Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Jennifer Jason Leigh: The Hateful Eight

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Reviewed July 6, 2010.



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