"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I'm fascinated with Greta Gerwig, though I've really only watched her in a couple of indie films: Greenberg (Baumbach, 2010) and Lola Versus (Wein, 2012). She's performed in some big budget movies I couldn't get through (Arthur, No Strings Attached)and didn't exactly try.

Frances Ha, the new Noah Baumbach film, opens in limited release on May 17th. It played festivals in Telluride, Toronto, and New York last September and screened in Berlin in February.  The reviews have been very good. Baumbach and Gerwig share the screenwriting credit.

I've seen Greenberg several times and it's still growing on me. I realize Gerwig is acting. All the things she says, all the things she does, have been hammered out in advance and rehearsed. Still, there's something very real and appealing about her performance. She has a lovely presence, a real luminous quality.  

To call Greenberg something of a downer is an understatement.  

It's emotionally complicated, frequently painful to watch.

It's a film about people and romance that is only occasionally funny; anybody hoping for a romantic comedy will be disappointed.  

In fact, some movie theaters posted specific rules about refunds pertaining to Greenberg. 

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), failed musician and accomplished writer of letters of complaint (American Airlines, Starbucks, Hollywood Pet Taxi, Mayor Bloomberg) visits Los Angeles straight from the mental hospital.  He's socially awkward, prone to outbursts, addicted to ChapStick.  He takes Zoloft and refuses to drive a car.   

Phillip, Roger's brother, is a great success; he's taking his whole family to Vietnam as the film opens and leaves instructions for his assistant, Florence Marr (Gerwig), to help Roger as needed. An unlikely, unsteady romance begins.            

They bond over Mahler, the family dog, who gets sick with an autoimmune disease. Despite the on-again/off-again nature of their relationship, Florence sticks around for the dog, knowing full well Roger cannot take care of himself, much less a pet.\

There's so much raw pain in Greenberg, so much emotional damage, so many false starts and stumbles.  At one point, Florence asks Roger if he thinks he can love her.  He says he doesn't know. 
"Roll on, roll on, roll on/Night birds are flyin/Come on, the light is gone/Hope's slowly dyin'."
Admittedly, Greenberg is a dark film.  Much, if not all, the light comes from Gerwig's portrayal of Florence.  Early in the film, she invites Roger to come hear her sing at Silverlake Lounge.  He shows up as she launches into Judee Sill's "There's a Rugged Road."

Later on, Florence sums things up by telling Roger, "you like me so much more than you think you do." Such a smart, telling moment. Roger and Florence are two painfully honest people who don't like pain.  They're burdened with insecurities and uncertain futures.  

Roger gets loaded at a party and leaves a rambling phone message for Florence.  "Oh Florence," he tells her. "I really like you.  Love, Roger."  

The complaint writer has finally written a love letter.

The final moments of the film are devoted to Florence, lying on her bed, about to hear the message Roger left.  


Roll on, roll on, roll on . . .

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