Magazine article The Spectator

Awkward Questions

Magazine article The Spectator

Awkward Questions

Article excerpt

Greenberg, 15


If you have ever wondered what the point of Ben Stiller is - and who hasn't, at some stage in their life? Who hasn't woken at 4 a. m. , asking over and over: what is the point of Ben Stiller? What, what?

- here is the answer: Roger Greenberg.

There is nothing much to like about Roger Greenberg. He's a narcissistic, prickly, nervy pain in the butt. But Stiller's astonishing performance makes him so true that, if we can't care exactly, we are fascinated by him, and his pained and painful struggle simply to get through the day. Just a look and we understand more about Greenberg than Greenberg does himself. I would not have guessed Stiller had it in him; not in a million years. He's one cheeky little Focker all right.

He may even be the cheekiest little Focker of all time.

This is written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and The Whale, Margot at the Wedding) whom I like, if only because he never gives us anyone to like, which goes against every Hollywood axiom there is, but always results in something daring and bracing. I should add that his wife, the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (who gives their daughter 'Jason' as a middle name; who, who? ), is given the story credit. Anyway, it's being billed as a comedy and, although there are some good funny lines, it's actually a sad little film. Roger Greenberg is a 40-yearold one-time musician who blew a recording contract in his youth and now works as a carpenter whose only hobby appears to be sending off letters of petty complaint to global corporations. He is wiry, uptight, wounding and wounded. He's the kind of guy who tells his friends what others are saying about them, for their own good. 'Hurt people hurt people' is the therapy-speak mantra passed from character to character with the hurt as both noun and verb but not past participle.

Past participles always miss out in the movies. It's a shame.

Greenberg has lived in New York for 15 years but, after a nervous breakdown and a stint in a psychiatric hospital - perhaps the world's worst psychiatric hospital, as he appears to have no tools to deal with his own misery - he returns home to LA to housesit for his rich brother. Here, he meets up with old friends, looks after his brother's German Shepherd, Mahler (Sam), and embarks on a romance with his brother's PA, Florence (Greta Gerwig). …

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