WRITER: Noah Baumbach (story: Noah Baumbach & Jennifer Jason Leigh
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
GROSS: $1,200,139 (as of March 28th 2010)
what we have here with Greenberg, is the first great film of 2010 (or at least the first great one that i have seen). but, we also have a film that is going to be very easy for people to discount and dislike. welcome to big cojones film making folks.
for those of you who haven't read my past film discussions on the site and are unaware of what i mean by "big cojones" film making, it goes as follows: i use the term to reference a film/film maker who takes a chance by doing something unexpected or daring or unconventional from what is expected and generally assumed with the craft of film making. and with Greenberg, director noah baumbach has done just that with the roger greenberg character played by ben stiller...
people who don't like the film will tell you that ben stillers character is unlikeable, and with no redemptive quality or moments they couldn't root for him. and you know what? that is true. but, so what?!!
and baumbach doesn't care about that either. he has a character that is who he is and where he is in his life and he isn't going to change him or write in some redemptive side story in order to get an audiences sympathy or make it easier to watch. the knowledge that you have a script that is strong enough to do that with and to trust that we, the audience, aren't all drones who will disengage when things aren't presented to us the way we are used to... that is big cojones film making. and i loved it!!
... on a side note: as i write this i am reminded of the ending change on the film Fatal Attraction. ***spoiler alert*** at the end of Fatal Attraction michael douglas' character's wife, played by anne archer shoots and kills glenn close's character in their bathtub as she is coming at douglas with a knife. it is a big climax in the film and one that allows for the audience to get the revenge on close that they have been seeking. or at least that is how the producers explained it to justify the change. so what was the original ending you ask? well, let me tell you...
in the original ending close commits suicide and frames douglas to make it look like he killed her. the cops go to see douglas and take him away and the film ends as he is being driven off with a distraught archer watching. now that's a great ending!
i have to say that, while i like Fatal Attraction, i have always found the ending a little disappointing, obvious and typical. and when i learnt about the original ending i was so disappointed they changed it. glenn close fought hard to keep it in, but lost. and actually, all the people involved in the film loved the original ending. so, why did they change it?
because they had a few screenings of the movie and they felt that they were losing those audiences with the ending. they felt that the energy dropped with the last 15 minutes and they concluded that the audience wanted to see revenge and the ending wasn't providing satisfaction. so they wrote and filmed the "happy ending" (my words not theirs) of sorts.
sure changing the ending was the safe and easy move, but that doesn't make it the right one. as michael caine tells nicolas cage in The Weather Man, "Do you know that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing? Nothing that has meaning is easy." to bad the makers of Fatal Attraction didn't have the big cojones. now back to Greenberg....
this is the third film from mr. baumbach that i have seen and i have loved all of them (Kicking And Screaming & The Squid And The Whale are the other two) and what stands out for me with his films are the scripts. and more specifically, how well he is able to write and appreciate the truth of people and situations. the script is so insightful and witty and honest.
he has this ability to get right to the heart of things in such a non-cliche way. there are so many lines that stand out. from ben stiller pointing out the superfluousness of clapping while you laugh given that the laughing "already demonstrates appreciation." or rhys ifran's character telling stiller that "it's huge to finally embrace the life you never planned." if that line doesn't stay with you for days after you leave the theatre than its cause you had probably left the theatre to go to the bathroom when he said it.
also, while i agreed, at the beginning of this discussion, with those who would say that ben stiller's character is unlikeable, i think that is not giving the character and the performance enough credit. it is a total film critic expression to call stiller's performance nuanced, but that really is what it is.
while you are kinda on pins and needles throughout most of the film just waiting for stiller to explode and go, well, all ben stiller with the character. he doesn't. yes, there are moments, but that is not only what the character is about. now, would i want to be his friend? no... do i think he is all bad? no...
it would be so easy to break out simple characters and create cliche moments and dialogue to say what the movie is trying to say. but, that's not what this film does. does that make it less accessible? maybe. but, for those that do access it, it will be so very worth your while.