Fresh out of a mental institution, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old man, returns to L.A. to housesit for his brother. We learn that this is Greenberg’s home town, where he and his friends were on the cusp of signing a record deal 15 years beforehand. Greenberg quickly strikes up a relationship with his brothers 20 something assistant, Florence. Soon Greenberg is attempting to reconnect with his old friends and past life including his ex girlfriend, his bitter old band mates all the while struggling with his age amongst the twenty-something’s he finds him self surrounded by.
As Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebrowski, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. and George Clooney in Up in the Air, Ben Stiller is Greenberg – a 40 something man constantly attempting to break into youth culture. This was acknowledged in his Tropic Thunder marketing skit for MTV, but is explored even further here.
Stiller does an amazing job playing such a character that is so unlikeable. This is probably due to fact that many aging males can relate to Greenberg or, at least, know of someone who is just like him.
The fantasy of the single bachelor is cast into an uncomfortable reality in Greenberg. Instead of being awesome and travelling the world, wearing a suit, having affairs and unfathomable adventures a la James Bond or Barney from How I Met Your Mother (“legen-I-hope-you’re-not-lactos-intolerent-dary”), Greenburg is surrounded by reminders of what he should be doing with his life and, when trying to break into the fantasy of bachelorhood, is reminded of the reality of his situation. An example being his 20 something crush not being able to offer him any ‘real’ drinks at her modest apartment apart from half a bottle of corona, and her owning a dinosaur hologram ruler. The humor and awkwardness of such situations are pleasantly and nauseatingly entwined.
The film is a great study of the micro-culture of youth in LA. As Greenberg himself admits, it was only a moment ago that he was 27, thus middle-age existentialism vs young adult existentialism. A drowning, grey haired skunk with a party full of laughing gen Y’s is a heavy but apt metaphor.
It wouldn’t matter to me if Greenberg had or hadn’t had a mental breakdown or become institutionalized. It is enough that this character has had a psycho-sexual fix on the events of 15 years prior: what if he had signed that contract? Is there still hope? Maybe if I get my friends back together I can repent with what I have done to their lives and fix everything! With such noble motives but flawed logic, Greenberg has to learn to let go, thus accepting his life and with that, the beginning of a new decade.
I enjoyed not knowing exactly where the film was taking me, a bit like Greenberg himself I guess. It unfolded at such a steady-pace that it could have been a television series a la What About Brian with a difference: I cared for the character and was interested in where he may or may not end up.
4 half drunken bottles of Corona out of 5
Luke McWilliams August 2010