Director Noah Baumbach has been riding rather a niche high these past few years. His latest endeavour with the Netflix original Marriage Story soared through audiences and critics with unanimous approval. Baumbach is no stranger to high approval ratings for his slice of life pieces of film, and try as I might to break free from middle class suburban America, I find myself stuck there once more with Greenberg.
Following the story of Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) as he house sits for his brother, Greenberg throws us into the life of a man recently released from a hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. Assuming this is explanation enough for the quiet, predictable mannerisms of our leading character, the film centres in on rekindling old friendships with former bandmates and lovers, in this case Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whilst also encountering new romantic endeavours in the form of Florence (Greta Gerwig). It’s all nose to the grindstone, nothing out of the ordinary, predictable farce.
Stiller provides us a completely amicable performance, one that doesn’t really mediate all that well on the better moments of his career, nor does it fall into a batch of horrible endeavours. Moderately tolerable chemistry with Gerwig is thrown at the screen in sporadic moments of ingenuity, brisk dialogue that brings out the more detestable qualities of these few characters. Gerwig is perhaps the highlight of the whole piece, a solid performance that does its best under a frankly limited time on screen. Entering the film with her in tow and then having her crop up in a handful more scenes along the way, it really does feel like she’s in the film for a lot less than one would assume.
I myself fell folly to the recency bias of Baumbach’s latest feature film, Marriage Story. This will be the fourth or fifth piece I’ve seen directed by Baumbach, and it amazes me how I’ve only now realised how entirely similar they all are to one another. Not just from a storyline and casting sense (Stiller and Adam Driver in relatively spiralling scenarios seem to be his favourites), but also from a pacing and directing level also. There’s nothing within Greenberg that elicits anything of interest. We’re dumped into a sadly boring life with ultimately dull stories to be told, a majority of them are actively detestable so it’s a shame we spend so much time with them. By far the weakest of his work so far, but I worry upon revisiting his other works they’ll fall to the same hazardously dull level as Greenberg.