Posted on 4.3.10: I knew when I first saw Greenberg that it obviously wasn’t Night at the Museum, but I figured that the usual indie suspects would discover and support it, and that it might eventually find its way to cult success as one of the finest character-driven, psychologically acute, no-laugh-funny flicks in a long while.
There’s really no disputing that Greenberg is one of the best films released this year (along with Roman Polanski‘s The Ghost Writer), and yet guys are bolting out of Greenberg showings and going up to theatre managers and saying “I want a refund”? What?
If I didn’t like Greenberg I would slink out quietly and keep my feelings to myself and my friends. I would at least defer to its reputation among most critics and tastemakers and say, “Okay, fine, critics and their weird tastes…but it’s not for me.” I certainly wouldn’t turn my animosity into a vocal lobby rant.
People not liking or recommending a film is standard, but this kind of hostility, I suspect, means Greenberg is touching some kind of nerve. It’s not just about a somewhat dislikable neurotic, but about a guy who’s at best treading water at age 40 and looking at a lot more of the same as he gets older. Speaking as the older brother of a guy whose life ended tragically because of this syndrome, I know this is about as scary as it gets. There are millions of people out there who are not that different from Ben Stiller‘s character, or who know people who are in this kind of head-jail.
As I said in my initial review, “Greenberg is about what a lot of 30ish and 40ish people who haven’t achieved fame and fortune are going through, or will go through. It’s dryly amusing at times, but it’s not kidding around.”
Many people feel as I do, of course, but Greenberg is clearly a major polarizer. It’s all evident on the Greenberg IMDB chat boards. Here’s how one fellow (i.e., “Famous Mortimer,” the guy who sent me the photo) defends it:
“I think it is provoking such strong levels of resentment from viewers because it is a movie very much of these times but not made in the style of these times. It exposes the toxic levels of conceitedness and alienation today with the sincerity and empathy of ’70’s films by Ashby, Altman and Allen.
“First off, it’s a story about people. There is no high concept or shoehorned stake-raising set piece. Viewers either have the patience to connect with the human pain on display or they are lost. Unlike Sideways, there is no charming countryside setting or buddy comedy hijinks to punch up the mood.
“Second, the dialogue is the action. Only when the viewer is willing to think over the dialogue will characters’ seemingly ambiguous motivations and back-stories become clear. There’s no juicy monologue or nauseating flashback to convey these points. Instead, the viewer comes upon them over the course of the film in the form of passing references made by various characters. It is up to us to take these bits and pieces together and unlock the character revelations for ourselves. No more spoon-feeding cinema.
“Third, this film is a labor of love. That means idiosyncratic details are to be found at every level of its making. Only by thinking these details over and feeling the connections between them do we appreciate what the movie is trying to do. It’s a really thoughtful and heartfelt experience.”