Down and out in L.A.

In Greenberg, the new drama by writer/director Noah Baumbach, Ben Stiller plays a guy spending a couple of weeks doing nothing in his brother’s house after a stint in a mental hospital.  He fills his time alternately wooing and scolding his brother’s personal assistant (Greta Gerwig) and they both tend to his brother’s sick dog.  While not heavy on the plot, emotionally Greenberg doesn’t hit many false notes.

I was hesitant to see this film, partly due to it’s marketing campaign, which tries too hard to make it look funny.  There are parts that made me laugh, but the tone is mostly somber.  Greenberg reunites with some old friends and tries to learn to live his life, one that differs from what he had envisioned.  Stiller, surprisingly well-cast, is charming one moment, rude the next; Gerwig, however, is the standout.  She is casually magnetic, and should develop into a star.

Baumbach (Squid and the Whale) again conjures a world that feels like real life:  characters make awkward jokes, struggle with anxiety and disappointment; they record drunken, revealing voicemail messages.   Beyond the joy of recognition, Greenberg presents a laid-back but compelling depiction of a search for identity and love.

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