If the motto of many Hitchcock movies is placing an ordinary person in unordinary circumstances, then Baumbach may be the backward spelling of Hitchcock… This is to say that the main characters in the few Baumbach films I had a chance to see, exemplify extremes of character, of various types, placed, mostly, in the most ordinary situations. Greenberg is no different.
Here is what I liked about the film: it has quite a few very honest moments, which is much more than I can say about most films made these days. Ben Stiller is at his best – much better than his not-that-funny films of recent years (I still think that ‘There's Something About Mary’ was his better film as a comedian), and Greta Gerwig as well as Rhys Ifans are superb. But all in all, in order for this film to work, one needs some identification with the main character, and for me that didn’t happen. Yes – with all of Greenberg’s extremes he represents bits and pieces we all can identify with to one extent or another: his feelings that apology cannot be his alone – unwilling to take full responsibility for wrong-doing, his impatience with stupidity, his expressed anger (in the form of writing petty letters) at trivial injustices of the sort most of us learned to take as the price for living in this world, etc. But mostly, Greenberg remains a castaway drifter, making his lost direction and missed life opportunities, a flag which amount to nothing. He represents a reminiscence of generation X that never grew up. Upon an encounter with generation Y, Greenberg expresses envy at the life he will never have. Like the inflatable air-dancing nylon character towards the end of the film, forever tied to the ground without which it will deflated into lifeless form, Greenberg is unlikely to change.