Review: Greenberg


Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenplay: Noah Baumbach
Story: Noah Baumbach & Jennifer Jason Leigh
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rhys Ifans
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Duration: 107 min

More than just a known commodity, the films of Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, and now, Greenberg) are an acquired taste. They capture with startling candor life unrehearsed without the benefit of selective memory. There is no safety net for these characters by a merciful writer, their struggles for dignity are lonely (though inevitably comical) affairs. Firmly planted in the theater of the absurd, the Baumbach universe is made to agitate.

Roger Greenberg’s life is a one act play: the not-quite Jew, the bundle of neuroses who refuses to be identified with his stint in a mental hospital, who breaks even the Larry David/Woody Allen mold of comedic curmudgeon, as someone not quite of either coastal city, but of both and back, and of course, my favorite, the lone pedestrian in a city of cars. The stage is set for complexity, but it is ultimately in the minutiae of Roger’s strained attempts to belong, the performance of Ben Stiller and the gracelessness of the dialogue that supersede the premise.

After a nervous breakdown in New York, Roger comes to housesit his brother’s home in Los Angeles. This is the real Los Angeles, not the beach or the modernist cliff mansion, but the sprawling, smog-ridden kitsch wasteland that strips away the mystique and becomes a suitable adversary to Roger’s want of sincerity. Shortly upon his arrival he encounters his brother’s assistant, Florence Marr, and the two kick-off one of the strangest romantic courtships ever captured on celluloid. Unlike Garden State, where love interests of relative quirkiness are paired together in ways that solely accentuate said quirks, the relationship that develops between Roger and Florence is something like a mating dance of the life-incapable, it is actually in its own way kind of beautiful in its start-stop aimlessness. Florence (played magnificently by Greta Gerwig) is more than a romantic foil, her self-proclaimed geekiness bodes an unflappable counter-balance to the Roger’s flawed ego; neither a feminist icon nor an object of desire, Florence walks her own walk as a similarly vulnerable co-conspirator of this unspecified relationship. Lesser films habitually build characters from plot and thematic needs downwards, here characters seem to act first, without fine definitions of what their actions mean even to each other. An apt comparison is the romance of Punch-Drunk Love; however, as with all of Baumbach’s stories, the character studies of Greenberg are given ample time to stew in their own juices, unburdened by conceits of plot.

At the core of the love story and of Roger’s struggle for meaning to life is a generational divide, the world has moved on. In his early forties now, the best years of life seemingly behind him, he exists like a tourist to this sham culture, writing longhand letters of grievance to corporate and political bodies, resistant to the change happening around him. Roger, and indeed the ethos of the film, is steeped in Generation X disillusionment. This point of contention is played upon further within the context of the story itself, by having Roger’s love interest far younger than him, part of the Generation Y more resilient, more adaptable generation to the culture of acceleration surrounding them. Yet both fumble towards common ground in a way that speaks of their mutual sincerity, wading through the baggage and the bullshit that each has built up to cope with this impersonal environment. The sincere ones are thin-skinned, they don’t behave like the social predators that populate reality tv programs or, as Roger puts it in one scene, the mean and overconfident sophomores that are made for this world, the characters of Greenberg are poor pretenders and want of something more.

Those who would feign a professional distance in the writing of their reviews and consciously or unconsciously desire an arbitrary clarity to structural elements of the narrative or character development will, of course, be left disappointed with Greenberg. They also would be full of shit; the people that Greenberg writes letters to. The existential challenge of Baumbach films provide, to my mind, a useful litmus test as to the temperament of the person reviewing, like Hamlet’s Mousetrap, how you respond says more about how you live your life. I apologize for bringing you into this, but I have read through one too many misreads of Greenberg that, like the protagonist, I would like to embrace my inner-jerk and be frank: if you don’t get Greenberg, you are part of the problem.

I do not care if Greenberg is enjoyable in the conventional sense, I do not care whether it meanders about without going much of anywhere plot-wise, I do not care if it is repetitious or redundant in the Baumbach canon, and I especially do not care that characters in the film are sometimes unlikeable. What attracts me to this film is that, filmic interests aside, Greenberg speaks to me on a human level – in its unedited blemishes I see the world I inhabit, and I welcome all the unpleasant emotions it dredges up. Like Florence, I am drawn to the messy honesty that Roger Greenberg embodies, it just so happens the film itself embodies this same ethos.

Greenberg, like Noah Baumbach’s other films, is for people that find comfort from being sad. The more refined the depiction of the absurdities of life, the more this part of my psychosis gives in to the experience. I do not need character development and thematic profundity, just being there in a sincere way as a cipher for these sentiments, is good enough; there is value in just being.


  1. Kurt Halfyard

    "Greenberg, like Noah Baumbach’s other films, is for people that find comfort from being sad. The more refined the depiction of the absurdities of life,"

    I feel this way far more often than I care to admit to myself. I loved Margot at the Wedding. I must take Andrew up and finally watch The Squid and the Whale and while I'm at it, check out Baumbach's other films, this one included.

    Anyone consistently employing Jennifer Jason Leigh is good in my book.

  2. You will love Greenberg, Kurt. for me Its the best Baumbach film.

    I am going to expand my review a bit, (I rushed it to be first) but this whole 'comfort from being sad' idea is, for anyone of our generation ought to know, a Kurt Cobain lyric fragment, and that is purposeful in more ways than one because there is a generational divide being explored in the film that I think likewise plays out in how we embrace the film. A Gen Xer is predisposed to a degree of angst that Roger in the film exemplifies, we have become like tourists to this new world, as happens with all generational shifts in culture (here mercantile culture in pursuit of the young) and the tone of the film, the struggles of the protagonists, they all project what I feel is a very Gen X vibe, they speak of my own built-in issues with the superficial. But the generational divide is played upon further within the context of the story itself, by having Roger's love interest be far younger than him, part of this Gen Y more resilient, more adaptable generation to the culture of acceleration surrounding them. Yet they fumble towards common ground in a way that speaks of their mutual sincerity, wading through the baggage and the bullshit that each has built up to cope with this manic world. On the periphery too, are stories of other characters, Roger's best friend, Ivan, and his ex-girlfriend, Beth, and they too flesh out this Douglas Coupland-esque world moved on disillusionment Gen xers tend to harbor.

  3. Well he is married to her, Kurt.

  4. *Slaps forehead* why do I not know these things?

  5. I didn't know but I had a strong suspicion.

    • This movie is already starting to dissipate in my head, as such, the more I think about it, the more I don't like it all that much. I thought the characters were pretty disingenuous and unbelievable. The more interesting aspects of Greenberg was his past with Ivan and his brother and neither are given hardly any screen time.

      Greenberg's past needs to be explored more. Who is he? Why is he the way he is? The character development on him is terrible. I can't understand the motivations behind any of his actions. My own bias comes into play here with yet another movie with no one to root for (other than Ivan who we never see).

      I wish the film would choose to be either serious or funny. It felt like it's trying to have a thoughtful message but just ends up coming across as self-important and annoying. The comedy we see is injected at poorly timed intervals and the worst of it is, the funniest parts are in the trailer and I've seen those about 6 times now.

  6. Andrew, most of your complaints are virtues from where I am standing. I entirely believe the characters, and I think this goes back to Away We Go, I think my experiences with fringe individuals must be more extensive than yours. I see the film and I see the absurdity of life lived, things are amped occasionally, thats fine, I don't require verisimilitude, but the spirit of what it is to be out of sync and unrehearsed and aimless, I get that. Its why I get Gerry and Last Days too. There is a through line of experiential pleasure, and its either your thing or it isn't.

    I don't see Florence and Roger as unbelievable or unlikeable, to me they are all too human, more believable than your average structured drama. They are eccentric, yes, but are common in their eccentricity, lived-in.

    This is my favorite Baumbach film, there is so much, as Kurt would say, to chew on, in every utterance, every choice made (i.e. the party foods Roger makes) I find it incredibly rich to think about.

  7. I also did especially like the Ivan stuff, forgot to mention in the review, but that rings so true to me how friends can drift apart… and the ex-girlfriend encounter was painfully awkward and honest.

    Also I got to say best Ben Stiller performance, period. He was conjuring something in this that just went against expectation, there was a weight to the way he talked, a muttering quality that was pitch-perfect.

  8. also on rotten tomatoes the main criticism seems to be about how unlikeable Roger Greenberg is. How do you not expect him to be unlikeable? Its not like he is supposed to be this great romantic lead, this is a film about a curmudgeon, a social misfit, a broken man. It just seems like such a lousy complaint to make to me, like saying Avatar sucks because it is all about spectacle, making a negative of what it intends to achieve. you can not like that sort of thing, but as critics, can't you acknowledge that the film is not lesser because of how unlikeable Greenberg is?

    This is a character study not a social.

  9. Andrew James

    See, I didn't see Greenberg as an especially broken man. A curmudgeon yes, but I would hardly call him a social misfit. And I want to know WHY he's like this. It isn't enough for me to have your main character go off all of a sudden on someone who doesn't deserve it. I want to know know how and why he got to be this way. He's not sad he's just annoying.

    And I guess you're right, I probably do not have as much closeness to these characters as someone else might because as a person I tend to not associate myself with people like this or people that they hang out with. The second I meet Roger, I would say, "nice to meet you" and then head off and have a conversation with someone less abrasive.

  10. Ben Stiller is very, very good in Neil LaBute's YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, albeit, all the performances are intentionally arch in that movie.

  11. not a social misfit? my read of him not wanting to stop at the party but drive past, fretting about insignificant details of his clothes and hair, making 'a party' but being shy and awkward with the pool people that come to it, and I am sorry, that date with Florence is the most awkward first date EVER, and he was the one leading it.

    with regards to the yelling at someone who doesn't deserve it, I think you mean the scene where Florence is talking about pretending to be a slut… that entirely makes sense to me, the character has particular boundaries of how he wants people to behave and she transgressed those boundaries, and rather than be the bigger person and politely change the subject he calls her on it… he doesn't like the overconfidence of the youth culture, he makes that explicit in the drug scene. Florence in that moments ceases to be a perfect object of desire for him and shows that she is flawed and immature and that makes him even more of an outcast.

    Roger is a dick because he hasn't found a way to ingratiate himself into the flow of the adapted, what comes natural for other people is a big deal for him (his OCD i.e.), and everything that reminds him of his weakness becomes a target for his frustration. He is not even a bully, his character is far more complex, you see him really trying to be good in scenes, like with the burger in the hospital, but he doesn't know how it works. I find him incredibly sympathetic as a character.

    Like I said in the review he is most like Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, the scenes with Emily Watson, he wants to be good but has a habit of doing bad things, like destroying a public bathroom. Roger has the same kind of venting issues.

    I don't quite see what back story is needed, his behavior dictates a failure of coping with life, he doesn't need justification for it, anymore than Florence does. They are both insecure people and project it in different ways, and it is not a perfect match but they do kind of work.

    I think you Andrew are like the baby genius, overconfident got their shit together younger generation, Roger calls out :) I do seriously think there is something to be said for the generational divide like he talks about in the film… people in their twenties now don't seem to have as much a problem coping particularly socially as Gen Xers, there is a sophistication that didn't exist for people coming into their own in the 80's and 90's.

    • I don't really disagree with anything you said Rot, but it comes down to interest level. I didn't find Roger (or anyone else – except Ivan) to be particularly interesting. I didn't really find anything all that new with these characters. Punch Drunk Love (IMO) is a FAR better film because it takes its characters to the limit of absurdity. Roger is just an annoying douche. I don't care that he can't relate or is awkward in public; lots of people are like this.

      And on the Stiller front, he's fine; but I think he's getting praise simple because he's Stiller and this is something different for him. I kept thinking of what the movie would be like with some different casting. Someone else could've taken Greenberg to new heights I think.

  12. No, I am with Ebert on this, Stiller was born to play Greenberg, everything about it feels right.

  13. This is not something wildly new for Stiller, he had a history of playing all sorts of different characters in the early 1990s, but then fell into the lucrative game of 'Zoolander' style comedies and made about 2 dozen of those, came to popularity with it, and was known for that. I like when Stiller is playing things more or less straight and less with the Something About Mary shtick. I am aiming to catch Greenberg some point soon.

  14. I can't think of any character he played like Greenberg though. This is a pretty original character. That said, I think Greta Gerwig practically steals the movie from under him, she is firmly in place as one of 2010's big finds for me.

  15. I think though if there is any nomination talk for his performance in Greenberg, it will be like Sandler, right back to the shit. He has Zoolander 2 in production.

  16. actually you're right, Zoolander was fairly funny, I think its more then idea of doing a sequel that seems like shit.

  17. Though Stiller was a bit over the top in Royal Tenenbaums, I loved his reading of one of his final lines – "It's been a tough year Dad". There's little doubt in my mind that he has the ability to be a solid actor – both comically and dramatically.

  18. The only recognizable film Greta Gerwig made before this is House of the Devil, she played Meghan.

  19. Um, Rot, she is perhaps the principle actress is the mumblecore corner of filmmaking, and Greenberg is (I believe) aiming to fuse mumblecore and mainstream filmmaking (well as mainstream as Noah Baumbach gets). Mark Duplass is also acting in Greenberg, he is the director of a pair of more high profile mumblecore flicks, Baghead and The Puffy Chair and has starred in even more widely known MC pics like Humpday and Hannah Takes the Stairs (also with Gerwig).

  20. are mumblecore films all that recognizable though? Maybe I am an exception but other than Humpday I have never heard of those other films you listed. Are they any good?

  21. If you are a John Cassavetes fan you should probably watch some mumblecore films.

    It should also be noted that Greta Gerwig is freaking amazing in The House of the Devil.

  22. shamefully I haven't seen any of his films, this despite cinema verité being my preferred choice of film-making.

    I feel a marathon coming on.

  23. If I squint I can see her name. I think this came out on blu-ray, might have to buy.

  24. I think I've only seen one Mumblecore film (Hannah Takes the Stairs) and Greta Gerwig was easily the most impressive thing about it. I liked it, but the style is a little too stripped-down for me. Not that I'm unwilling to try others, I just haven't gotten around to it. But she was fantastic, so I'm glad to see her getting more attention.

  25. I have to say, I didn't like "Hannah Takes The Stairs" much at all – mostly because of the character of Hannah, but also because of Gerwig's performance. I seem to remember she was better in "LOL", but that wasn't saying much. So I was really surprised by her turn in "House Of The Devil" (damn, I want that poster Andrew).

    For the mumblecore I've seen (at least those that are typically classified as that), I'd recommend "Dance Party USA" and "Humpday". Maybe even "Funny Ha Ha" which certainly had its moments…

    Mike, I think you would dig Hannah, LOL and Dance Party.

  26. It's nice for a movie to live up to its posters for once, but nearly all (except that crappy "HAND" one) of the House of the Dead posters are ace.

  27. can someone other than Andrew please see this film already.

  28. I'm dying to, but it hasn't come to my area yet.

  29. Heh, I saw it awhile ago rot.

  30. has anyone seen, and recommend Baghead? From what people have said above I do want to check out House of the Devil and maybe Hannah Takes The Stairs as well, but the premise of Baghead sounds kind of interesting.

  31. I KNEW that Baghead image looked familiar somewhere, go figure it would be here.

    great sold. I am all in for mumblecore, Baghead, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Mutual Appreciation, Puffy Chair, and for some extra Greta, House of the Devil.

  32. Yum. In House of the Devil, Gerwig always seems to be chewing or suckling on something. It's distracting in the best possible way.

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  33. Watched my first mumblecore film, Hannah Takes the Stairs, and I am in love. It is like film geek repellent, devoid of anything but the rawest of human expression, perfect. I so can't wait to watch everything now I can get my hands on.

  34. And Bob I can see how Hannah could irk you, having only seen two Gerwig performances I don't know her range, and she is a bit squirmy in the role and in regards of any kind of 'character development' it would be disappointing. I just don't particularly care about that, I love the voyeur aspect of watching people sometimes act sometimes react, and how that tension plays out as something outside of the 'plot'.

  35. Rusty James

    I just watched Greenberg. I'm surprised it took me so long, I guess I haven't been following movies as closely as usual and I didn't realize it was out.

    I loved it. It often it a little closer to home than I'd care to admit. But that closeness lent me a lot of insight to Roger Greenberg and what made him tick.

    Probably the films most impressive feat is making RG sympathetic while never making him likable. It's a great performance by Stiller and I love Greta Gerwig as well who I would describe as playing a more authentic version of Natalie Portman's similar character in Garden State.

    It's an almost perfect "romantic comedy". Welcome home to the "mumble core" genre Baumbach.

  36. I am working my way through the mumblecore films I know of, and enjoying it immensely (plan to write a omnibus post about it at the end)… are there any in particular you recommend?

    If you get a chance, watch the short film on the Criterion of Kicking and Screaming, it is hilarious, also a little closer to home than I'd like to admit.

  37. Still haven't gotten to Greenberg, but I found this NYTimes article by A.O. Scott interesting: Gen X Has a Midlife Crisis. Excerpt:

    The biggest contradiction may be: How can a generation whose cultural trademark is a refusal to grow up have a midlife crisis? It is a shock to see Mr. Stiller, in “Greenberg,” playing the older guy, just as it is an affront to Roger Greenberg himself to be the older guy. Returning home to Los Angeles after more than a decade in New York, Roger seems ludicrously and tragically confined in his own youth. He seeks out old friends and can’t quite accept that they’ve moved on, acquiring kids, spouses, ex-spouses, ordinary jobs and specific miseries that stand in notable contrast to Roger’s systemic resentment. “Youth is wasted on the young,” says Roger’s old friend Ivan. “I’d go further,” says Roger. “I’d go: Life is wasted on people.”

    The sense that his life has been wasted — stalled by mysterious external forces rather than his own failure of will — makes Roger a representative figure, an epitome of loserdom instead of just another run-of-the-mill loser. It should go without saying that a generation is a demographic fiction, and that a stage of life is something of a literary conceit. But certain characters and narratives nonetheless draw together confused and disparate experiences in a way that feels almost instantly emblematic. Think of Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” or Sarah Jessica Parker in the first seasons of “Sex and the City.”

    When markedly similar characters and stories start popping up everywhere, it’s more than a trend. It’s what those of us raised on vintage postmodernism call a historical phenomenon. So an intertextual analysis of “Greenberg,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “The Ask” (for starters) yields a startling composite portrait of the Gen X male in midlife crisis.

    The whole generation thing is intriguing to me – I guess I grew up thinking I was part of Gen X because it was what was still being talked about when I was young. Scott chooses 1979 for last year of Gen X births (though there's a bit of an arbitrary nature to setting specific years on it); I was born in 1981, and feel more at home with the descriptions I've read of Millennials than those for Gen Xers. From what I've read about <span class="movie">Greenberg</span>, I'm afraid my reaction will be "get over yourself and get on with your life". If I have time, I'll try to get to Greenberg this week before it disappears from theatres.

  38. huh, how old is A. O. Scott? When I refer to Gen X I am thinking firmly of Douglas Coupland/Nirvana. I am not thinking so much about not growing up but a refusal to accept the meta-narratives particularly of Western consumerism, recognizing that this lifestyle does not make you happy, does not fulfill. The second Puff Daddy hit the airwaves, attitudes changed, thats my marker. Bling was in, being connected and tech savvy was in, geeks were cool, fetishizing all forms of established culture was cool… for me that is the divide between Gen X and whatever came next. It became mainstream for a blip of time and then left, but the people that still lived that way just stayed curmudgeon. Greenberg typifies that mindset (midlife crisis feels like something the Baby Boomer's obsess about, it requires first an investment in a certain way of life)

  39. also I think the draw for you Jandy will be Greta Gerwig's character. Young L.A. geek.

  40. Also this Gen X mindset is distinct from hippies or punk, both have ideals they aspire for, they exert a certain effort (to dress like a punk is an ordeal a Gen Xer couldn't bother doing). Its most synonymous with the term slacker, over-educated under-employed, disenchanted with the world… in essence, what the monkey says in Waking Life.

  41. That's one thing Scott mentions earlier in the article (I quoted the parts specifically about Greenberg), is that it seems oxymoronic for Gen X to have a midlife crisis. He dates Gen X as those born between 1964-1979; obviously there's no universal agreement on when exactly the cutoffs should be. One of the early quotes from "The Ask" the he uses suggests that Gen X has no metanarrative, no great war, no universal experience – not sure how that fits with your perspective on rejecting metanarrative. Rejecting metanarrative is a postmodern thing, but I'm not sure how interconnected the idea of postmodernism is with the idea of Gen X (in terms of theoretical constructs).

  42. having no metanarrative of our own and rejecting that of those whom came before us, essentially the same thing. I know, for myself, postmodernism was a big deal when I was in university, Derrida, Deleuze, Nietzsche, the systematic dismantling of everything people think is true… the notion of truth, that great metanarrative torn apart. I had a hard time writing papers at first because the institutional requirements are that you play within a common narrative of knowledge, that sourcing experts and controlling your vocabulary and being real scientific is the way at getting across something important and valid even though often what you would be talking about are writers such as those listed above that are not so neutered in their opinions. It is ridiculous to take a paper seriously on the value of Derrida, virtually a hypocrisy. How do you write about historical Nietzsche after reading his Use and Abuse of History? It is so much bullshit, sometimes entertaining bullshit, but utter bullshit.

    That people can defend academia still boggles my mind. This is where I think we are like different species, that its not just a 'theoretical construct' that a Gen X idea exists, its exists as any 'thing' can be said to exist, those that accept hierarchal value to knowledge and the institutions that perpetuate it are significantly different from those who do not… and it could very well be the lack of a great war, no universal experience, that caused this cultural perception in some, but then what great war did the generation after have?

    I KNOW Greenberg, he makes complete sense to me, but Florence in the film is an enigma, maybe she is not adequately representative of her generational mindset, but a Gen X fantasy of one, I really cannot say, because I do not understand AT ALL how others cope in the world the way they do.

    A lot of the debates on here are I feel between different generational mindsets that similarly cannot grasp one another, everything gets lost in semantics, concepts that are not inherently understood. In Greenberg some of that plays out, the relationship between him and Florence is quite comical in how it is like two people having two separate conversations, they fight to be on equal footing.

  43. I remember writing something about midlife crisis in my journal, how foreign that idea is to me, and I suspect to those like me. Does it make sense to you, this idea? I have a friend not much older than me who went through one and he insisted he was just like me and that one doesn't see it coming, and again, like I was talking with a different species, it makes no sense. Though he was the same age he did not grow up in North America, and we are in many ways different from one another. I fundamentally do not believe in midlife crisis, at least for myself. I don't feel like anything is being withheld from me, the notion feels anachronistic, something other people use to explain their lack of introspection.

  44. I definitely had a quarterlife crisis when I finished college. Ages 23-25 or so were tough for me – and in a way that I'd imagine is fairly Gen Xish. At least, when I saw Kicking and Screaming, it was totally me. Jaye in Wonderfalls, that was me – college degree and working in retail. When I went to college, I was sure that by the time I was done, I'd know what I wanted to do with my life, but I didn't. But I didn't really obsess over it; I read a book called "The Quarterlife Crisis," realized that other people had the same questions I did and resolved to move on and do what I could, because focusing on the insecurity isn't as useful as moving on, and my day-to-day life was quite happy. Midlife crisis, I don't know. Ask me when I get to midlife. But yeah, I guess I can see it happening if I don't feel like I am where I want to be – i.e., no family of my own, feeling like I'm working interim jobs (though I think that issue is solved), etc. I can't see giving up those things for wanting to be younger, though, if that's what you mean by midlife crisis.

    Back to your other, anti-academic point, I used the term "theoretical construct" because I was really getting at the way postmodernism and Gen X are codified and perceived by those codifying and perceiving it, rather than the way they actually exist, if indeed they do exist in any non-theoretical way. In some sense, I'm not sure they do – clearly there are trends in how people think and create and interact with the world that are real, and those trends have been grouped together and identified as postmodernist or as Generation X characteristics. They're broad strokes and they have value, but they remain stereotypes. Just because an individual was born in 1970 doesn't mean they have a "Generation X" outlook – that's why there's always a level of the academic in talking about these things, because there must always be a level of remove from the individual. You apparently identify very strongly with Generation X, or your understanding of it, so it's more immediate, visceral, and less academic for you. I identify to a certain degree with Generation Y, but not completely – there are many things about my individual background that don't match the culture around me that created and perpetuates Generation Y.

    So, yeah, I'd say Gen X really exists (not just as a theoretical construct), but it exists the way, say, film noir exists. Not the way, like, the Grand Canyon exists. It exists because people noticed certain trend shifts and started talking about them and codifying them and the descriptions work in a broad way so they stuck. But I don't feel defined by generational descriptions. Do you, or am I taking this further than you intended?

  45. I don't mean to say if you were born between set years in said location you will have these characteristics, just that as with all cultures, there pervades a unifying trend among enough to qualify it as something bigger (that is how we come to label everything isn't it, when it hits a critical mass we name it).

    If I understand you right, you are willing to make a marked distinction between this sort of labeling activity and what one does pointing to an object and naming it. I don't see that as a strong distinction, and maybe that is where we part ways. I actually lean towards Nietzsche's anti-realism, at least when posed with this as an inquiry, that “If I remove all the relationships, all the ‘properties’, all the ‘activities’ of a thing, the thing does not remain over”… the 'thingness' of the Grand Canyon is no more fundamentally real than the thingness of Gen X culture. 'The Deed is everything', its our relation to something that makes it something. So you are right to say its my immediacy with this notion of Gen X that I identify with, and I can only really talk about that, if I am going to be honest with myself.

    Talking about this I do notice something, Greenberg is not quite this idea I have of Gen X, its as if he is in part a caricature for the sake of drama. He has exaggerated elements, he is unaware of his behavior, and that is useful for the purposes of the story, but even with these exaggerations much of how he behaves in the moment rings true (the immediate of the cultural in him outside of the construct). He is a foil. In some respects he lives up to the bad poster caricature of a guy with a thought bubble like some kind of Ziggy cartoon, but the believable chemistry, or lack thereof, between he and Florence, creates this other level beyond the literary, an immediate expression of a mindset I find incredibly familiar. I still love the caricature moments in the film, for what comedy or drama they provide (I know Kurt found the drug scene a bit too on the nose about the cultural differences at work), but to me they are transitional elements to the insights into not just cultural behavior, but human behavior, just thematically generational culture is evident enough to mention it.

    Anyways, to answer your question, I do feel defined by the generational description I comprehend, the Douglas Coupland Life After God, the Nirvana Nevermind, the Linklater Before Sunrise/Sunset, and some that came before it with the beatniks, which going by your original time frame would maybe blur into this slacker era. I wonder how much this identifying has to do with the fact that when I was at my most impressionable there wasn't a thousand different places to go in the social network, there was more cohesion to the culture, which I think now is exploding everywhere now.

    A generation that does not know what it is like to be fashioned culturally prior to the internet speaks a different language. The mere adjustment to how we store knowledge can change everything. I am not saying what is now is bad, or inferior, its just vastly different. It may be bad relative to what I know to be of value for me, but that is relational, not absolute.

    to harp on academia, because I love to, it feels like an albatross, like training wheels, but than we keep polishing these training wheels and don't actually do anything about it. Again, I lean towards anti-realism so I see academia like Wittgenstein's fly-bottle, very insular and restrained and self-flattering, and you just need to uncork it, with the tools that academia can give you, and then you realize there is this whole other world to play in.

  46. Kurt Halfyard

    "I fundamentally do not believe in midlife crisis, at least for myself."

    Talk to me in 7 years when you are up to your ears is kids-paraphernalia and surreal parenting conversations with your neighbors. I'm not saying that I'm anywhere near a mid-life crisis. I'm not wired that way, but I can tell you that my 30s (thus far, slightly over half way!) have been a radically different experience than my 20s.

    Disney World was the strangest and most mundane experience ever. Perhaps that is what brings the rant on.

    But I simply cannot wait until Rot gets a chance to see THE PARKING LOT MOVIE, it is tailor made for him. And it is great.

  47. You're right, I do make a marked distinction between identifying and labeling a group of loose characteristics and naming a physical object. That may have to do as much with my beliefs in absolutes that exist outside myself as anything else. An early section of a lit theory class I had dealt with language and the idea that things don't exist unless we have language to describe them – I had a really difficult time wrapping my head around that concept. It just seems to me that the Grand Canyon would exist even if we didn't have a way to describe it; things exist as individual entities because they are different from other things, and the Grand Canyon is different from the landscape around it even if we don't have a word for "canyon" or "hole" or "river" or "plateau". I sense that about the Generational divides, too, that they exist in a real way because they are different from the generations around them. But the differences are much less concrete and definitions of a generation are always going to be more nebulous and constructed than definitions of objects. Of course, that could apply to any concept (as opposed to object) – the definition of "love" is nebulous and changes from person to person, but I don't have this sense of "constructedness" toward the concept of love that I do to the concept of Gen X or Gen Y. Again, possibly because of my belief system.

    With regard to being defined by generations – I guess I more see it as I choose which things define me, or which things I relate to the most, but those things don't, to me, seem indicative of a larger culture of which I am a part. They are, to a degree – I like indie rock/pop and identify to a certain degree with the subculture that produces and promotes it. But that doesn't preclude me from choosing things outside that subculture to enjoy, or to not enjoy things from within that subculture. I relate most to Rilo Kiley, but that only identifies me as a fan of Rilo Kiley and perhaps of mid-2000s LA indie rock, because they aren't big enough in the wider culture to identify me as anything else. I don't have anything like Nirvana that I latch on to, I don't have anything that culturally pervasive. My cultural touchstones are niche ones that I experience as part of a subcommunity (and I'm part of many subcommunities, some of which overlap, others do not, and being part of a subcommunity is highly fluid), not as a culture at large. Perhaps that's part of what you mean when you talk about the fragmentation, and that's really true. I have no expectation of walking in anywhere in the real world, mentioning a band or TV show that I like and having anyone else there know it. That's not me being hipster, either, just acknowledging that the real world is based on physical proximity, which is no longer a good indicator of knowledge and interest. And speaking of the internet, I can barely remember not having the internet (we got it at home in the mid-1980s), but I can't really understand how people functioned without it. And I'm not being facetious there, or not very much.

    I'm mostly leaving aside the anti-academic parts at this point, because I think we're just going to always disagree there. I will just say that I understand that you hate the insular nature of academic and the solipism it often tends toward; I'm not necessarily a huge fan of that, either. But I honestly ENJOY looking at things through academic glasses in a way that you clearly don't; for you it takes all the fun out of the experience of something, but for me it adds to it. So when I end up adding an academic-type layer to something, it's less because I'm trying to box things up in a sterile, non-experiential way and more because it's fun for me to do it.

  48. Oh, and the answer to the "how old is A.O. Scott" question – he was born in 1966, so he'd be at the oldest end of Gen X as he defines it (1964-1979). Forty-four years old.

  49. it always comes up as hate only because the culture of academia is so damn persistent. Everyone is using a brown crayon and ignoring the rest and in fact marginalizing those as eccentrics or 'artists' who dare use the rest of the crayon box. The same goes for rational and irrational labels, that what lacks reason is merely the absence of, the very word 'irrational' implies that. Its is a fairly arbitrary and elite paradigm we live in where what we perceive as 'rational', or what the will to power deems rational, rules the day. I could even tolerate it if it was actually reasonable, but it really really isn't. You mention chalking it up to your belief system, and for the most part I agree with that, that is at least more honest.

    as for ENJOYING looking through academic lens, I am all for that… I don't equate that with the culture of, the culture isn't playing out academic work, its doing it. one is rigid the other carefree. one imposes rules that control you and your behavior, the other plays with rules until it no longer serves the interests of the game. I enjoy academic work like I would enjoy haikus, they have a rigid form, they aim to do a particular thing well, and thats it. I wouldn't conform my behavior to suit its meanings, I wouldn't let the haiku tar my understanding of other kinds of poetry, and the source of poetry. But academic culture does, does even when people aren't even aware its happening, it changes your relation to the world, its lens are difficult to take off. What some may take as unassailable realism are things certain primitive cultures would find utterly baffling, the reason being they have not been conditioned to think that way.

    I sometimes wonder how we lived without the internet too. It is an incredible valley to straddle, the other me seems hard to get a hold of. This may also be why this generational characteristic is distinct enough to acknowledge, it knows two pretty divergent paradigms, its sees between things, I suspect that in 50's America it would have been far harder to have a divergent perspective because you are right in the thick of it.

    I don't know, thats why I want you to see Greenberg, to give the alternate perspective about what is going on, to see if you see what I see.

    @Kurt honestly, I think I went through my crisis early, like Jandy, so I guess if that is what is meant by midlife crisis than I do know what it means, but it happened at 19. If the idea is that life gets pent up longer and longer and if you don't acknowledge one day in your forties you are going to breakdown, that is not going to happen to me. If anything I will burn out from thinking too much about where I am in relation to the rest of the world, not from shying away from it. But yeah, add a child in the mix and I am sure weird things can happen. I totally notice a difference to how I look at things just with the idea of a kid.

  50. and I am pissed I missed The Parking Lot Movie.

  51. I agree with what you said there on academia. I never mean it to be the only way to look at something, so if I come across that way, it's usually either unintentional or because I feel an unbalance in the other direction in the discussion. Or because the only way I can manage to verbalize my thoughts is by using academic language.

    I think I came off rather elitest when talking about choosing what I like from culture; I didn't mean to suggest that tha is an advantage Gen Y has over Gen X, though thinking back it kind of reads that way. Obviously any individual can choose what they like. If anything, I was contrasting myself to a lot of people I know in my own generation or younger who may not follow "the mainstream" (because that's so fragmented now), but blindly follow whatever their sub-community says to – like friends I have who immediately like whatever new indie band all the blogs are talking about. So sorry if that came out wrong.

  52. your generation is too apologetic :)

  53. Not really. :) We're mostly a bunch of thoughtless, self-centered pricks. They don't call us Generation Me at times for nothing! I just personally like clarity of language is all.

  54. per Matt's recommendation I watched my first Cassavettes' film, Husbands, and holy hell that's a movie! Totally see how they call mumblecore movies 'Slackavettes', Husbands had to have been an inspiration on Swanberg's films at least.

    This scene is the obvious standout

    though 8 minutes this clip is just a small part of the longer scene.

    Would make a great Finite Focus, under the title "Do It Better"

  55. um, here it is:

    <object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

  56. I love Cassavetes. I got a box set of his a couple of years back and was blown away. His films can be heavy going, but they have such a raw beauty to them and he draws out some outstanding performances. Check out A Woman Under the Influence as soon as you can that's my favourite so far and I really liked The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Faces too. I haven't seen Husbands yet actually, I'll have to track that down.

  57. Thanks for the recommendation David, will definitely look into all of these. And if I can return the favor, have you seen any of Joe Swanberg's films? Going only on Cassavettes' Husbands I see a strong similarity, hence the whole Slackavettes moniker to what Swanberg is associated with. So far I have seen Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs, LOL, and Nights and Weekends, all great.

  58. Of Cassavetes, I've only seen Woman Under the Influence (which is one of those films that I didn't enjoy watching so much but got better in my head as I thought back about it – tour de force for Gena Rowlands) and Shadows, which I think is his first one and very good. I tried watching The Killing of a Chinese Bookie but couldn't get into it. Will have to give that one another go sometime.

  59. For those interested in seeing more of Greta Gerwig I recommend Nights and Weekends, she is great in it. The movie is great too, a very intimate look at long distance relationship, and in true Swanberg fashion he does not shy away from the subject matter, not once but twice both he and Greta are completely naked and for all intensive purposes having sex. I know this has been done in other films, and I remember Kubrick talking about wanting to show real sex between developed characters, but it still feels kind of impressive in this film, mostly because you actually care about the characters. The sex is a further expression of the body language between them as they can't quite communicate with each other.

  60. David Brook

    I've not seen any of Joe Swanberg's films no, I'll have to check some out. Thanks

  61. rewatched Nights and Weekends, fucking awesome. I would pick it first of Swanberg's films. Has a maturity to its expression of love similar to Before Sunset but blows that out of the water, the improvisations are brilliant in this.

  62. here's the trailer:

    <object width="560" height="340"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="560" height="340"></embed></object>

  63. This was a damn good movie. It didn't hit me quite as hard as The Squid and the Whale did, but good lord, I love Baumbach.

  64. I like Squid and the Whale, but for me its actually Baumbach's least great… the proper order:


    Kicking & Screaming

    Margot at the Wedding

    Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation (ultra-cheap short film extra on Kick and Screaming criterion, HILARIOUS)

    Squid and the Whale

  65. Nope, wrong. :) Order should be:

    The Squid and the Whale

    Kicking & Screaming

    Margot at the Wedding

    Greenberg to be slotted in soon. I forgot that was out on DVD now, I'll have to bump it up to the top on Netflix.

  66. Huh, Greenberg actually shows an 8/10 release on Netflix – must be one of the ones with a rental release delay on it. That whole thing is so weird to me (working in video stores in the '90s, rental stores got releases a full three or four months before they were available to buy).

  67. its out for purchase in both the states and here, are you sure thats not a rating 8/10 :)

    must see, and let me know how to see The New Year

  68. Yeah, I checked Amazon and it's available for sale there. Guessing it's on a 30-day-Netflix-delay. I'll seen it as soon as I can. And I'll let you know about The New Year.

  69. so buy yourself a couple copies, already! No joke, I actually have two copies :)

  70. My 26-year-old friend watched this last week and it woke him up. He quit his job eight months ago and literally, his reasoning was, "I'm just going to do nothing for a while" and he lived only off what he had been able to save up, and just spent a lot of time watching movies and drinking. After watching this movie, it scared the pants off of him that he may end up like Greenberg and immediately applied and was accepted into a local university so he can pick up a second degree in accounting and get his ass in gear.

  71. I think a lot of people can identify… slackers age too.

  72. Oh, for sure. I think most guys in the 23-40 range will find something to identify with in Greenberg. I have never seen a movie have quite an impact on someone as this seemed to on him though. Very cool. That's the power of film.

  73. for me Rev Road was like that, at some point you got to stop living for the dream that is easy to talk about but you do nothing to achieve.

  74. Henrik

    I am now going to watch this, but I was able to take in Notes from the Underground without being scared enough to change, so if this frightens me, I'll be pretty impressed.

  75. Henrik

    Okay so I finally watched this. I think that whoever fears becoming Greenberg as a worst-case scenario for life has it too good.

    This movie was good, but it felt like somebody who never experienced hardships in life trying to portray depression. Greenberg gets away with everything in this movie, he still has this gorgeous young girl fawning at him, even though he treats her like shit. Why? No reason, maybe because her motherly instincts are so extreme, but it reaks of hollywood bullshit. In real life, people react to Greenberg like Andrew does. In no way did the problems of the main character ever feel sincere, he seemingly has an unlimited supply of money, and unlimited supply of contacts, an unlimited source of love and affection from a person he has known for acouple of hours etc. etc. So when he contemplates how people think of him, I would never expect him to give a shit, because he has everything that anybody would want. Compared to a movie like "Sideways" for instance, any issues raised in Greenberg seem ill-thought out and kind of childish.

    This movie and Revolutionary Road being two waking experiences for you rot, makes me question how aware you were to begin with.

  76. Henrik, the whole point is Greenberg has always had everything he would need, he is so neurotic and self-involved to appreciate the fact. They even had a record contract but couldn't accept it… this appears to be, at least in the movies, a Jewish thing, the Woody Allen syndrome of not wanting to be a part of any group that would have you as a member. He lacks the emotional skills to interact with people, to communicate his feelings, the world itself is not out to get him, is not so terribly bad, its a battle with himself.

    and Florence in the film is not exactly the perfect woman, she is a mess of neuroses too, and they flounder when they try to talk to each other and its awkward and they struggle, and thats life.

  77. Henrik

    Maybe it's just the casting, but I don't buy it at all. It seemed too unrealistic, not to have all these things and not be happy, but that he would have all these things.

  78. in which case I guess every celebrity that succumbed to depression and self-annihilation are also unrealistic because they ought to be more together due to their financial circumstances? People can be fucked up no matter what the circumstances around them, and better in film not to link the cause of the problems to something environmental.

  79. Henrik

    You're not getting me. I'm not saying that I don't believe somebody could be unhappy under any circumstances, I'm saying I don't believe this guy would have this circumstances in real life, and therefore the movie feels less authentic.

  80. Watched it. Didn't hate it, but it didn't connect with me the way it did with you, rot. I can appreciate the nuances in the script and performances, and there are several scenes I thought done quite well, but overall…I wasn't fully convinced, I guess. I didn't buy Florence's character at all – she's not an enigma because she's outside your generation, she's an enigma because she's not particularly well-written. You describe her as "an LA geek," apparently based on her self-description just before she doesn't have sex with Roger, but she doesn't do or say anything remotely geeky. I didn't recognize the character, if that makes sense.

    And though I can see Roger as a sympathetic character, I don't understand him either. I agree with Andrew that the bits that were the most interesting were the tidbits with Ivan about the band and with Roger's old girlfriend. The whole Roger-Florence thing didn't make sense to me, except maybe for the last scene when for some reason I can't define, I started believing them….and then the movie ended just as I was on their side. I'm not saying it was a bad ending, because it wasn't; just that I wish there was a scene that put me rooting for them earlier than that.

    Also as a mostly unimportant side-note, the LA geography in the film is off, and not for any reason that I can tell. When Florence tells Roger where she's singing, she says it's at Sunset & Orange, which is in the middle of Hollywood, but the flyer is for Silverlake Lounge (and that's where the gig scene is actually filmed, when they get to it), which is at Sunset & Parkman in Silverlake. What possible reason would Baumbach have for stating such specific locations incorrectly? It's not hard to either verify the location or leave out the specificity. Nitpick, but annoying and weird, especially when you're trying hard, as the film is, to show the actual LA.

  81. Florence is not a tech geek, but she is definitely a social geek (you know, what the word originally meant). She feels entirely out of her element in Los Angeles, I can't remember if they say she moved there or not, but her meek quality seems very much at odds with the oozing confidence of Los Angeles. She is not able to read Roger's insecurities properly, and is too candid and causes him to flare up, the characters feel totally grounded. To me it was a complete joy to watch them bash into one another like moths to a lightbulb, neither one of them having any control over the situation, any firm social grounding. Florence, in her own way, fights for some kind of dignity, and a weaker film would have held fast to that as a convention, but she ultimately isn't a strong person, she recognizes the weaknesses in Roger as her own and accepts the slights, the perceived inequality, she is a stronger person in a way because she can accept it in order to allow the relationship to develop. This same dynamic plays out in my all time favorite novel, Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. There is a dance to the way they interact that to me is rarely captured in film… this sort of film is usually more rigid, hitting the beats, and this film sprawls, it allows Roger to be more than an asshole with a change of heart, he is allowed to be an asshole beyond the usual constraints… I don't take the ending to be a sign of his change of heart, he is going to continue to be his way for a very long time, and Florence is likely equipped to take it, but its not an easy relationship, its not true love, its not catharsis… its human.

    I 100% understand Roger, and I understand how a woman like Florence could exist, who is extremely vulnerable but so unconscious that she could push forward a relationship with the strength that the man could not, she is reacting out of a blind will for things to work out, and in the equation she is the strong one, the lion tamer, its just not in the conventional sense of what strength usually seems like. The feminist would object to her taking as much shit as she does, perhaps, to me she is the heroine of the story (hence it beginning with her and not Roger).

    as for LA geography that is weird, wonder if it has something to do with Baumbach being a New Yorker and not knowing.

  82. the antithesis of Greenberg is Garden State, look at how that film takes the veneers of quirky, insecure people and makes a beat by beat romantic comedy out of it. Greenberg allows the confines of the film and of the story to be dictated in a way by the genuine insecurity of its characters, the desired resolutions are not all there, the want of full understanding of character elicited, are not all there, the want of some kind of anchored dignity, is not all there, these are messed up people outside the realm of social mores, struggling awkwardly to be loved. Florence is neither a foil nor woman on a pedestal in this film, her character is meek but when push comes to shove she occasionally (but not always) fights back. Both of their behaviors can be described as somewhat arbitrary, each moment dictates its own terms – that, to me, is not a flaw of the story or the film, that its strength, its willing to let the characters steer.

  83. I too loathe Garden State (only two bright lights are Peter Saarsgard and a wonderful use of a Zero 7 song). I fail to understand the love here, the film seems so shallow and safe.

    It is almost offensive to mention Greenberg and Garden State in the same sentence.

    • I don't really see the correlation between GS and Greenberg. The GS characters are slightly troubled but perfectly fit into the world they're set in and seem believable (in a movie sort of way). In Greenberg, they're just overly written so that you find them annoying and conceited. GS characters actually care about each other and you can feel it. Plus it's SO much better on a technical level – especially for a first time writer/director. Greenberg just looks and feels dull.

      Jandy what did you think of the Stiller performance? Did you find it as amazing as everyone else or like me, did you just simply find it mildly interesting because it's a departure for Stiller? I still maintain a lot of actors could've done it better. People are enthralled simply because it's Stiller doing something "un-Zoolanderish."

  84. "The Garden State characters are slightly troubled but perfectly fit into the world they’re set in and seem believable (IN A MOVIE SORT OF WAY)."

    Exactly. hence my point of GS being the antithesis of Greenberg, its aiming for a believability in the murky depths of human awkwardness.

    The two films share this idea that fringe personalities can find one another and fall in love and the female character is in both strangely frank and awkward, and the male characters are withdrawn, depressed. But in Garden State the depressed state is still normalized, its 'movie' depression, whereas Roger is genuinely neurotic and lost.

    • That's the problem. In one movie I like the characters and want to spend two hours with them (in spite of, or maybe even because of their problems). The other movie makes me want to say "have a nice life Roger, I'm outta here."

      This isn't to say I need to feel comfortable at all times in a theater, but I don't necessarily want to sit there and watch clinical depression for two hours with a shrillness only exceeded by Mommie Dearest.

  85. I enjoyed Garden State a lot more than I enjoyed Greenberg, though I understand the charges you (rot and Kurt) bring against GS, and what you liked about Greenberg in opposition. I can get your point of view in an intellectual sense, but my feelings are the same as Andrew's. I felt way more connected to GS than I did to Greenberg.

    In terms of Florence, here's an example of why the character didn't work for me (which is, in large part, why the film didn't connect with me – she was supposed to be my entry point, right?). In one part she's talking to Roger about how he seems okay with doing nothing, and that she doesn't think she could do that. But A) Roger isn't okay with doing nothing [if he were really comfortable enough with himself to do nothing, he wouldn't spend 3/4 of his time complaining pointlessly to faceless corporations], and B) her statement intimates that she needs to be doing something, but what does she really do? She works as a personal assistant and granted, she does seem to care about the family she works for and do a good job, but most people in LA are personal assistants because it's a way into the industry. She seems to have no interest in that, no drive. She's a singer, but she spends no time in the film talking about music, writing or performing music outside of that one scene – she doesn't seem to really care that much about that either. What else does she like or do? Go out and drink and have one night stands? That's not DOING something. Really, she seems far more okay doing nothing than he does. Either that's a character inconsistency or just a blandly-written character.

    And as far as her being a geek, no. I might describe her as a dork if the characteristic under question is social ineptitude, but to me being a geek requires passionate, almost obsessive interest in SOMETHING. It doesn't have to be technology – it could be movies, or music, or books, or comics, or whatever – but Florence doesn't appear to be interested in much of anything. Except the dog and Greenberg, and I don't understand the motivation of her interest in Greenberg. Similarly, I don't understand the motivation of his interest in her. It doesn't make any sense.

    Even after all that, it's not that I disliked the movie. As I said, there are a lot of scenes that work really well. Just that central relationship doesn't work at all for me. Andrew, I do think Stiller did a good job in the role, and I thought Gerwig did fine with what she was given. There were moments that were gold. But most of all, I just don't feel anything toward the film at all. If it weren't for you, rot, feeling so strongly about it and being curious about my reaction, I wouldn't have been moved to respond to it at all.

  86. I loved Garden State when it came out, I own the dvd, but I rewatched it and I do not see what I saw through those youthful eyes anymore. Perhaps it has something to do with the deluge of films I have seen since then, a saturation point maybe. The film feels achingly quirky and the third act is about as clumsy as it gets to resolve everything.

  87. ah but the line is an example of her saying whatever is at the top of her head without thinking. She quickly covers it up to say she couldn't do that, but she was grasping at straws just to say something, and it came out as a slight. This is the kind of thing I am talking about, its natural, its how I see awkward people talk, 1 step forward, 2 steps back (listen to Reed Farrington for proof). You are trying to find the venn diagram of the character in her inconsistencies, but thats the point, people are inconsistent, and in the moment make decisions or say things that seem not to make much sense, but in that fumbling towards meaning you get the higher meaning, that no wrought characterization can give you. I get the sense there is a glass ceiling for you and Andrew about how much of this natural quality you are willing to accept before it becomes a deficiency of the storytelling… for me there could be no story, just a thousand different points of contact between two awkward characters trying to find the words to express what they feel. Nobody is consistent in life, most of us would seem to be very bland characters if you compare us to familiar types. Greenberg situates itself in the minutiae of personality tics and I love it for that, its the Ben-Hur of personality tics.

    In your reading of the word 'geek', than yes, I would agree, Florence is not a geek. Her interest in Greenberg, to me is obvious, someone who knows in her heart she is socially awkward finds solace in being around people who are on their wavelength of awkwardness. Roger doesn't know he is socially awkward, he doesn't have a self-awareness that Florence does, she is the one that can move through the pettiness (her line in the hospital "you like me more than you admit") she understands that Roger is his own worst enemy and that underneath he is like her, lonely, sad, inept. Whatever happens on the surface, she can feel the subtext of what he says, of why he behaves the way he does… sometimes she reacts against the surface stuff and gets mad, but other times she can accept it.

    but different strokes…

  88. and how does Greenberg show he cares, he hangs a picture… how does that not break your heart? but before you can take that as a Hollywood change of heart, he also asks her if she gets the LA TImes and insists he will bring one over (because his letter was published). Inconsistent? Lack of Growth? Character Flaw? You betcha.

  89. I hate this translation, but its the only one I could find online quickly… this is a scene in Notes from Underground that adds the psychological import to what Baumbach here leaves tacit (I suspect out of context this might not make quite as much sense but oh well, any chance to share Dostoevsky I will take):

    "But at this point a strange thing happened. I was so accustomed to think and imagine everything from books, and to picture everything in the world to myself just as I had made it up in my dreams beforehand, that I could not all at once take in this strange circumstance. What happened was this: Liza, insulted and crushed by me, understood a great deal more than I imagined. She understood from all this what a woman understands first of all, if she feels genuine love, that is, that I was myself unhappy.

    The frightened and wounded expression on her face was followed first by a look of sorrowful perplexity. When I began calling myself a scoundrel and a blackguard and my tears flowed (the tirade was accompanied throughout by tears) her whole face worked convulsively. She was on the point of getting up and stopping me; when I finished she took no notice of my shouting: "Why are you here, why don't you go away?" but realised only that it must have been very bitter to me to say all this. Besides, she was so crushed, poor girl; she considered herself infinitely beneath me; how could she feel anger or resentment? She suddenly leapt up from her chair with an irresistible impulse and held out her hands, yearning towards me, though still timid and not daring to stir …. At this point there was a revulsion in my heart too. Then she suddenly rushed to me, threw her arms round me and burst into tears. I, too, could not restrain myself, and sobbed as I never had before.

    "They won't let me … I can't be good!" I managed to articulate; then I went to the sofa, fell on it face downwards, and sobbed on it for a quarter of an hour in genuine hysterics. She came close to me, put her arms round me and stayed motionless in that position. But the trouble was that the hysterics could not go on for ever, and (I am writing the loathsome truth) lying face downwards on the sofa with my face thrust into my nasty leather pillow, I began by degrees to be aware of a far-away, involuntary but irresistible feeling that it would be awkward now for me to raise my head and look Liza straight in the face. Why was I ashamed? I don't know, but I was ashamed. The thought, too, came into my overwrought brain that our parts now were completely changed, that she was now the heroine, while I was just a crushed and humiliated creature as she had been before me that night–four days before …. And all this came into my mind during the minutes I was lying on my face on the sofa.

    My God! surely I was not envious of her then.

    I don't know, to this day I cannot decide, and at the time, of course, I was still less able to understand what I was feeling than now. I cannot get on without domineering and tyrannising over someone, but … there is no explaining anything by reasoning and so it is useless to reason.

    I conquered myself, however, and raised my head; I had to do so sooner or later … and I am convinced to this day that it was just because I was ashamed to look at her that another feeling was suddenly kindled and flamed up in my heart … a feeling of mastery and possession. My eyes gleamed with passion, and I gripped her hands tightly. How I hated her and how I was drawn to her at that minute! The one feeling intensified the other. It was almost like an act of vengeance. At first there was a look of amazement, even of terror on her face, but only for one instant. She warmly and rapturously embraced me."

  90. I knew you were going to come back with that argument regarding the "doing nothing" scene. :) I don't have a good response to that, actually. I just didn't read it that way, though I can see how you could. I think I just found her uninteresting. People who aren't interested in anything are uninteresting, and I don't really understand them, because there's so much to be interested in.

    I can deal with little or no story if I enjoy being with the characters. The New Year was like that for me – it actually did kind of go somewhere, or hint that it was going somewhere, but I wouldn't have cared if it hadn't. I wanted to stay with those people, I wanted to know them in real life, and I wanted to go to the bar or the bowling alley and hang out with them. I guess I can deal with either "story that goes nowhere" or "characters that aren't likable," but not both at the same time. I need one or the other to feel like I got something out the movie. Otherwise, I could just go to Silverlake Lounge for real (since I, like, know where it is) and listen in on awkward people. I get the impetus for mundane realism in film, and sometimes it works for me. But I will say the mumblecore films I've seen (Hannah Takes the Stairs, Mutual Appreciation) still tend to hit this same, "yeah, but so what" vibe that I got from Greenberg. I appreciate the attempt at non-artifice, but I don't enjoy watching it, and it doesn't stick with me for long.

  91. …and thats the difference between our generations :)

    you are all so well-adjusted and interested in everything and we 90's generation understand what is to be disinterested.

  92. I'll have to read all of Notes from Underground at some point. I loved Crime and Punishment, but more because I found Dostoevsky's writing style overpowering to the point where I couldn't resist it than because I believed the psychological underpinnings of the characters. Or, well – I believed Raskolnikov at the beginning of the book just fine, but the end all rang pretty false to me. I'd have to read the passage you shared in context to say anything about it.

    Heh. I don't always feel that well-adjusted. I'm plenty socially awkward a lot of the time, but it doesn't really matter to me because there's so much else to do that if I feel overwhelmed socially I just retreat into the thousands of books I've never read and thousands of movies I've never watched. Maybe that's why I don't understand how people get bored, either. For me it's like a race against aging to try to cram in all the stuff I want to experience in life.

  93. Oh, and by the way, the picture-hanging scene was one of the ones I really liked. It showed him using his area of competence (carpentry) to reach out and do something nice for someone. That was well-done. Like I said, there are moments that are great. The line you mentioned from Florence, that he likes her more than he knows, was another one. They just didn't all add up to a whole for me. Maybe it was just too many steps back, too many fits and starts, though I'd like to think I don't require a film to follow an always-moving-upwards 'change of heart' model.

  94. I liked that The New Year kept things complicated and didn't jump to the change of heart angle either.

    I have only read Crime and Punishment once but what I remember is Raskolnikov is a ball of neuroses for the entirety of the book and there is one scene, one moment where he breaks with everything you expect of him… and I LOVED that moment. Again, inconsistent, yup. In The Sopranos a similar out of left field moment occurs where you think you know Tony for over 6 seasons, where he stands on certain characters, and then, in the heat of a moment, out of seemingly nowhere, he changes, and its not a fault of writing, a plot-device, nothing… its because human nature can work that way, because what makes Tony Soprano so terrifying is that if he is a sociopath its not the cuddly movie gangster kind, its the blink and you're dead kind. With Raskolnikov I felt you were hearing his thoughts first person as he understood them, the surface of his understanding, but all along this other empathy existed that he never knew he had, and the realization comes to him as immediately out of left field to himself the same it comes to us.

    Whenever I talk about something in a film being Dostoevskian I mean this kind of complexity of emotions, no one in his books are ciphers, they are more real than most people I encounter, they manifest in each moment unrehearsed. Thats something I love about the mumblecore I have seen, granted its by design, but you get actors acting and see them as actors acting and there is something revelatory (for me) in that escape from form, you are invited to experience the film in a different, more honest way.

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