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y'know.....if you're bored and fancy giving me a second opinion to see if i'm talking wanker-grade bollocks or not.
it's like, 1000 words so feel free to wave around a tl;dr
Soundtrack's great, not watched it though.
The man behind much of Greenberg’s hazy, drifting west-coast pop soundtrack, and perpetrator of a blink and you’ll miss it cameo, is none other than LCD Soundsystem frontman and everyone’s favourite grizzled hipster, James Murphy. As the statement that will always define the man and the band, early LCD single ‘Losing My Edge’ was a knowing, semi-satirical gripe at the growing waves of precocious heard-it-alls ready to usurp Murphy’s position as chief of the underground and a list of the frustrated and increasingly desperate things he would shout to convince everyone, and himself, he still had it (‘I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City’).
Eponymous protagonist Richard Greenberg, played by Ben Stiller, is largely cut from the same cloth, to the point that Murphy has said of his discussions with director Noah Baumbach, ‘The character is so on the mark that some of the things that Noah and I talked about at dinner wound up being things Greenberg said’. Stiller plays the kind of erstwhile musician who brings to mind a line in High Fidelity, (‘Some people never got over Vietnam or the night their band opened for Nirvana’), but for Greenberg it’s the turning down of a major label record deal for his band when he is twenty-five years old. Fast-forward to forty-one and it hangs over his world like a swollen rain cloud until he has become a walking pic-n-mix of social anxieties, sour regrets and perpetual disappointment, all ready, having just been released from a mental institution following a breakdown, to take residency in his brothers plush L.A home as he jets off to Vietnam with his family.
The key difference, however, between Murphy and the languorous, lackadaisical
Greenberg is the levels of self-awareness and the ability to engage, and make light of his flaws and position in life. Murphy has said that ‘Losing my Edge’ came about through being ‘horrified by my own silliness’, but as his friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) points out to Greenberg, he has always been unable to laugh at himself. Indeed, the way Stiller handles Greenberg’s lack of self-awareness recalls some of David Brent’s finest work, with the same wince-inducing ability to ignore the rhythms of normal conversation and constantly edge himself towards the centre of attention, whatever the context. So like the rise of Brent, much of the narrative arc is focused on whether Greenberg can achieve a respectful level of self-awareness and humility to overcome the audience’s probable antipathy towards him, but also whether he can find something substantial to weigh him down as he floats through his life. Greenberg talks about the freedom that a marriage-less existence can bring, but these are just the words of a man who has convinced himself that happiness can only come with the unattainable, and that any deviation from former life plans are to be met with mis-trust. Greenberg is in a house with a pool but he cannot swim, resides in freeway packed L.A but he cannot drive, is unable to take hold of life’s bigger issues so continually writing letters of complaint for minor annoyances (an airplane seat that wouldn’t recline, the frequent use of car horns in New York, the conduct of a doggy taxi company) in an effort to exert some power and influence over a part of his life. He is adrift, and floundering, unable to find a direction, even more unable to execute the journey if he happens to see a route that he wants to take.
But this is when he meets his brothers’ assistant Florence Marr, played to perfection by Greta Gerwig. Greenberg is an enjoyable and absorbing film with a number of sharp, wry lines and observations, much that raises a smile (‘youth is wasted on the young’ says Ivan, to which Greenberg replies ‘youth is wasted on…people’), and a brilliantly thoughtful, restrained and nuanced performance from Stiller (Ifans also puts in a surprisingly delicate performance), but it is hard to imagine it working in quite the same way without Gerwig, and it is the scenes without her that the film looses its spark and drive, leaving you constantly pining for her return. Gerwig consciously put on some extra weight for the role because she saw Florence as ‘the sort of girl whose thighs rubbed together’, and beautifully creates a character equally adrift as Greenberg, but in a much different way. Florence is loved by her boss’ children and frets about her relationship with her niece, wanting to build a strong connection, whereas Greenberg struggles to recognise when his best friend is talking about their children (‘Vic…who is Vic?’. ‘My son, Victor’. ‘Oh yeah…I didn’t recognise the diminutive’) and freaks out at having to visit a party where many of his former friends and acquaintances have children running around. Greenburg struggles to register his aloofness, but Florence is painfully self-aware and Gerwig plays it so well, you can almost see all the different thoughts and options going through her head as she faces each task or conversation.
If there is a wider criticism, it’s that the whole lonely and adrift anti-depressant popping ‘what does it all mean?’ intelligent American guy looking to be saved by a caring woman that understands him is in danger of getting a little stale. One of the greatest attributes of the mumblecore movement that Gerwig hails from is their greater willingness to let the malcontent and directionless women drive the film and often you can’t help but wish this film had Florence’s name at the top of the poster instead of Greenberg’s. But that said, it is still deserving of praise and possesses a subtlety of narrative and characterisation that Hollywood would do well to replicate more often that it does.
i could've got the name of the lead character correct too.
but the line you quote about youth being wasted on the young - I'm pretty sure the Guardian quouted it as "Youth is wasted on the young... life is wasted people". There's a big chance they're wrong though, some of their errors are atrocious.
i'm gonna stick with my version anyway and be dammned the consequences.
Quite want to see this film. Mumblecore ftw!
I watched Groundhog Day for the first time ever last night. Turned off the lights, had a big bowl of microwave popcorn (amazing stuff! Why have I never bothered with it before?) and a pint glass of coke, and had my very own cinema experience. The film was awesome, if a bit out of season.
I like your angle on this - filtering the film through the persona of James Murphy, however, I'm not sure that it works fully.
You say, "The key difference, however, between Murphy and the languorous, lackadaisical Greenberg is the levels of self-awareness and the ability to engage, and make light of his flaws and position in life." Well, quite, seeing as the key component of Greenberg's personality is that he can't engage with other people, finds it impossible to emphasise and always puts himself first in conversations. You're kind of saying, "James Murphy is like Greenberg, except for his entire personality." Sort of.
Who is this review for? Is it a comment piece for a personal blog, a review (i.e. a buying guide) for a website. A comment piece for a website? I dunno, it reads like you couldn't quite make your mind up and it ended up going into depth on James Murphy, containing spoilers, an attempt at psychoanalysis, and lots of points that don't necessary connect together but are on the page for the simple fact that you've thought of them.
I liked it though, but I'd like to see the James Murphy angle pushed a little more, and it can't just be dropped halfway through the review - you have to return to it at the end.
Also, avoid offhand lines like, "...Florence Marr, played to perfection by Greta Gerwig." It's meaningless.
i think the fact that i used a direct quote from murphy saying...'hey, i'm quite like greenberg'...allowed me to make that comparison, and then say....'BUT...'. i just wanted to use the murphy angle as an introduction, but maybe it would've been nice to wrap up with that.
and i agree the flow and structure might be off. its the first time i've ever written a film review, and have obviously only had a chance to watch the film once in the cinema, so i found that a bit tricky and i'm sure is something i'll get better at with practice. i found it really hard to get in everything i wanted to say though, and any more than 1000 words is pushing it.
that goes for most of it i guess....the more i do it, the better it will get hopefully.
and is that line really meaningless? i'm basically just saying that she nails the role...i dunno. how would you word that?
it's probably better to put it in the context of a description of Florence's character. In its present location it could mean anything.