Writer/director Noah Baumbach has always been accused of being a cynic and for the most part, when he isn't teaming up with Wes Anderson, that is the truth, but Greenberg dials it up to eleven on the miserable bastard scale. Don't get me wrong Greenberg succeeds as a comedy, but only on the same plane that A Serious Man did. This film will definitely be an acquired taste.
The film opens up in a way that many films about California do not, instead of the splendor of Hollywood what we see instead are mass amounts of smog overtaking everything in sight. A way of foreshadowing Roger Greenberg's (Ben Stiller) mindset? Absolutely.
The relationship between Florence (Greta Gerwig) is a hard-to-watch-one at best. While she sees a vulnerability in Greenberg, the audience sees an abusive relationship slowly unfolding to several awkward attempts at having sex because, "it feels good". Given that Greenberg starts from her point of view is strange considering Florence is such a passive character. She could find no other employment than as a house-sitter for the Greenberg clan, Roger's successful brother Phillip Greenberg (Chris Messina), his wife and their two children. When she isn't at Trader Joe's shopping around, she is dutifully taking care of their dog, Mahler. Her great joy seems to be performing karaoke in a small bar, reflective that even in her small happy moments she is still only singing someone else's song.
The films' most effective scenes are between Greenberg and his former Magic Markers bandmate, Ivan (Rhys Ifans). After the fallout that occured between the band when Greenberg turned down a record offer the two went their separate ways. Ivan and Greenberg are friends in the sense that they both know they have nothing in common anymore, but the stories shared can always pass the time between them.
When Ifans is on the screen Greenberg is certainly more tolerable and we feel like we can get to know him more intimately than just someone at an arms length. The explosive confrontation they have during a house party is easily the best scene of the film. Baumbach really keys in on the relationship between former best friends who have let too much time go to pass.
To Ben Stiller's credit he never attempts to make Greenberg anything more than he actually is. A stubborn, narcissistic agoraphobe with little to no consideration for everyone else in his small circle of friends and family. You may not like Greenberg, but Stiller doesn't need you to. Greenberg's isn't a transformation that takes place in the third act like a lot of films; Greenberg is who he is. And sadly we might know him better than he knows himself.