Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Noah Baumbach. 107 mins
Rated MA 15+ (sex scenes and drug use).

Noah Baumbach has made some small idiosyncratic films about family, the dysfunctional family in The Squid and the Whale, the family assembling for Margot at the Wedding.  This time, he offers a portrait of a strange, or not so strange 40 year old American male, Roger Greenberg.  Along with this picture of Greenberg, is a side portrait of the 25 year old Florence, the next generation to Greenberg. 

The setting is straightforward, contemporary LA.  Florence works as an assistant to a family and is asked to keep an eye on the husband's brother, just out of a mental institution who will babysit the house and the dog while the family has six weeks in Vietnam.

While the setting is straightforward, Greenberg is certainly not.  It is an advantage that he is played by Ben Stiller, not in raucous comedy mode, but more like the put-upon Greg in the Focker comedies, except that he is messed up psychologically.  He has a past with drugs, with a band that never achieved the single record because of his dominating interference.  He writes paranoid letters of complaints to companies and can burst out in hurtful 'plain truths' as the mood takes him.  Greenberg is a case.

Florence herself has the makings of a case: broken relationships, pregnancy, abortion, educated but little job satisfaction, a would-be singer  who is attracted by Greenberg though his responses to her can be particularly insensitive, nasty and hurtful.  Greta Gerwig is very good in this role.

There is no particular ending in view of this portrait.  The film just stops – but could go on in the same way.

A great plus of the film is the restrained performance by Rhys Ifans as Greenberg's best friend who has made more positive efforts with his own life.

27th May 2010   Universal

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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