On a technical level, Greenberg is solid. The production values are all good, the music is well chosen and the sets and costuming are fine because they're pretty much invisible, but all that's no big deal. The editing approach is one that pauses, or simply moves on from a scene rather than finishing it allowing the viewer a moment's reflection to create echoes as the film progresses. What really shines is the script. Almost every line of dialog in this film is funny. Not laugh out loud funny, but amusing in its delivery, simplicity, or unexpectedness. And then it comes down to performance.
Ben Stiller's introspective deadpan character is very well suited to Greenberg. He's a guy who says things that many people only think. He's introduced as someone who has spent time in a hospital for mental patients, adding an edge which, brilliantly, is never realized. As I watched this film I kept thinking of the scene from the promotional television commercial for it where Stiller speaks bluntly to some twenty-somethings about his views on the younger generation, and I couldn't imagine how that scene was going to fit into what I was seeing. The film presents a much more subdued character than that commercial implies.
Greenberg is a slow boil and the two other main players are just as muted in their performances. Rhys Ifans plays an old friend of Greenberg and rolls along every time he's onscreen as if he's just gotten out of bed and is too tired to disagree with anything. The highlight of the film is Greta Gerwig. She literally says "Okay" to everything. Her performance is a breath of fresh air, charming and unpretentious, artfully unartful. Contrast it to the small role played by Baumbach's real life wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's become an indie diva, and her appearance is the only thing that brings the film out of its sweet brutal little universe.
I've been a fan of Noah Baumbach since Kicking and Screaming, and his latest film reinforces my admiration of his work. Greenberg is a nearly perfect bit of intelligent and thoughtful film making.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans