Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Video review: "Greenberg"

"Greenberg" wants desperately to be a 1970s Robert Altman film, but it fails. Altman, for all his stylistic flourishes with naturalistic, overlapping dialogue and ensemble casts, always relied on a narrative through line to bind things together. He didn't just like to observe characters for their own sake; he wanted them to do things.

Roger Greenberg, the protagonist of this black comedy/drama from writer/director Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"), doesn't do much of anything. After being released from a mental hospital and moving to Los Angeles to stay at his brother's home while they're away, he hooks up with an old girlfriend.

"Right now I'm trying to do nothing for awhile," he says.

"That's brave at our age," says the ex, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who also co-wrote the story).

Roger is self-hating and occasionally abusive to those around him, like his brother's assistant Florence (a vibrant Greta Gerwig) and his old pal Ivan (Rhys Ifans). Roger was in a band with Ivan 15 years earlier, but walked away from a record contract. He didn't want to compromise his integrity, but didn't grasp it would end the dream for all of them.

Roger hangs around the house, drinks a lot, looks after the family dog when it takes sick (though clearly annoyed at having to do so) and begins a fumbling, hot-and-cold romance with Florence.
He's an unlikable guy, but Ben Stiller plays him with an emotional center that carries us through the film's meandering course.

Video extras are, in a word, pathetic.

I was excited at first to see three featurettes included (extras are the same for both DVD and Blu-ray versions). There's a making-of featurette, another about the role of Los Angeles in the film, and a third about Baumbach's literary influences.

Then I actually popped them in, and found they total less than six minutes of combined running time.

They're essentially extended trailers, with short snippets of the stars and filmmakers thrown in for hype.

It's quite disappointing. It reminded me of a moment in the film when Greenberg learns that his friends think he doesn't make much of an effort at anything. We can certainly say that about Baumbach's approach to video releases.

Movie: 2.5 stars out of four
Extras: 1.5 stars

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