Audiences looking for snappy, peppy dialogue in a dramedy will be disappointed by Greenberg. Those looking for a Ben Stiller comedy (There's Something About Mary, Meet the Parents) will also be disappointed.
But filmgoers will point to Greenberg for years to come. Why? Because that's where Greta Gerwig arrives on the doorstep of popular culture.
While Hollywood celebrates Carey Mulligan and Emily Blunt as the next star-in-waiting, Gerwig quickly graduates to a short list of actresses for whom moviegoers will see a movie simply because she's in it.
Greenberg is flawed in so many ways, starting with how it's being marketed. A sampling of critics' snippets would have you believe the movie is "Extremely entertaining!" Extremely? No way. Entertaining? Barely ... "Wickedly humorous!" It inspires more appreciative nods than laughs. But this movie joins a long list of average flicks that feature extraordinary performances--think Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War or Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures. Even Tommy Lee Jones was a hell of a lot better than everything else in The Fugitive. More often than not, the sum is not greater than the parts of a film.
Moviegoers who are followers of independent film may recognize the 26-year-old Gerwig from Hannah Takes the Stairs or Baghead, but many will be discovering her in Greenberg, and for that reason alone, it's worth more than the price of admission. (By the way, there should be a basket near the exit of a movie theater where you put in a little extra cash if the movie exceeded your expectations. You should also be able to take money out of that basket when you feel ripped off.)
It would be too easy to simply classify Gerwig by her soulful eyes, crooked smile and natural body language. Never do you see her performing. She inherits the role of Florence Marr in Greenberg. Her sentences trail off. She cracks herself up. And when she tells a disjointed story of how she and a girlfriend pretend to be a pair of trashy social climbers, she is transfixing. The scene doesn't necessarily move the plot forward, yet it invites you into the room, asks you to sit down on the edge of the bed in Florence's small apartment and insists that you get to know her a little better; equal kudos to director Noah Baumbach for not leaving that scene on the editing room floor.
To his credit, Ben Stiller, who plays Roger Greenberg, is cashing in some of his show-business capital with Greenberg. It's estimated that his films have grossed $4.75 billion worldwide. This film wouldn't be seen in half of the theaters where it's currently running without Stiller's name above the title. His recent appearances on the Leno, Letterman and Jon Stewart shows are aiming for the target audience of 16- to 25-year-olds who are looking for the next great romantic comedy. He even used the same film clip in every appearance. You'd think it's one of many funny moments, but when you watch the entire film, it's barely funny and in context, pretty depressing.
Greenberg isn't going to do that well at the box office. And it's way too long before the next award season to even register a faint memory by then. But remember the name Greta Gerwig. Better yet, go see Greenberg. You'll forget the movie in short order. You'll never forget her.