Everyone has their movie wishlists - books they want to see on the big screen, stars who should be paired together, character actors who deserve leading roles, songs that would be perfect in certain scenes. For some there's a great pleasure in seeing very funny people turn their attention towards serious work, eg Steve Martin in 'The Spanish Prisoner' or Robin Williams in 'One Hour Photo'. If that's your thing - and you haven't seen 'Reality Bites' - then maybe you've wondered what would happen if Ben Stiller played it straight - or straighter. 'Greenberg' gives you a good idea.
He plays Roger Greenberg, a 40-year-old carpenter recovering from a nervous breakdown. In his twenties Greenberg had the chance of a major label record deal with his band but turned it down because it offended his artistic integrity. He's spent the years since punishing himself and everyone else and has now decided "to do nothing for a while".
Returning to his native Los Angeles to housesit for his successful brother, Greenberg meets the family's personal assistant Florence (Gerwig), a sweet and optimistic girl, and reconnects with Ivan (Ifans), his former bandmate, and Beth (Leigh), his ex. Through them Greenberg gets the chance to face up to the life he had and the life he has.
Director Baumbach's award-winning 'The Squid and the Whale' is one of those small movies with great performances that will stand the test of time. He followed it up with the disappointing 'Margot at the Wedding' but fans of 'Squid' will think he's back on form here. Once again the themes of lost years and regret are deftly conveyed by Baumbach (and co-writer and partner Leigh) and it's hard to watch without thinking of someone you know.
This is one of Stiller's best performances and while he gives you some laughs (including arguably the most embarrassing sex scene in cinema history), the real pleasure is watching him move outside his comfort zone a bit and play a character who while not really likeable still ends up making you want the best for him. Self-sabotage, misdirected animosity and the triumph of the inner critic are just another day at the mind office for Greenberg, and shifting uncomfortably in the seat may be part of the experience for you.
While 'Greenberg' is longer than 'The Squid and the Whale' it manages to feel less complete and there are times when Baumbach could have made the story tighter and more focussed - especially when one huge decision for a character is treated quite breezily. What the film does do very well, however, is get you thinking about your own dreams and disappointments and when Greenberg says "Life is wasted on... people" it's a great reminder that every day is precious. So, whatever you want to achieve or overcome, in the classic comedy words of Stiller: "Do it!"