Greenberg (2010)

A recent study on happiness found that 42 was, generally, the most unhappiest year in most people’s live. It’s not the hormone fueled teen years or the infirmities that plague the elderly, but 42.
That’s what Douglas Adams declared as the answer to the meaning of life. Uh-huh.
At 44, I get why 42 is an unhappy time. The forties are when it becomes very hard to fool yourself about yourself. The dreams you had at 20, the ones that failed, probably aren’t going to come true. Your personal flaws that once were so charming or quirky are more or less just part of your personality. If you haven’t accepted yourself and your flaws, the forties force you to deal with them. There’s usually a lot fewer people to fool. The young no longer see you as young, you’re no longer the guitar player in the band, but either a sad man chasing a lost youth or the weird old guy with his lame music. At 42, you’re either firmly on a career track or you just go to some damn job every day, biding your time for a pay check.
Dodging responsibility can’t be blamed so easily on all those outside forces you once rebelled against. You’re The Man, even if you feel powerless.
Generally, the family you wanted at 20 is now reflected back with the mistakes you’ve made. It’s the family you have. The momentum of your life is harder to go against then that desire for change, for self reinvention.

Are these generalizations? Sure, they are, but 42 still scores low on the happiest part of most people’s lives.

I heard on a podcast the other day that they thought the saddest part of dying was the moment before death when you realize you’ve run out of chances to be the person you want to be. Or chances to do all the things you want to do. That’s probably why we invent an after life for ourselves.

I certainly can relate to Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) somewhat. He can be an asshole because showing love is hard. And doesn’t a young man has time to change? He lives in the past because the present has no future.
He has a hard time accepting his age, his life, his failings.
(Note to self: Never ask some one honestly what bad things others say about you. Bad idea.)
A young man can rebel. A young man can be a different person inside their head and believe it; a different animal than the person they present to the world.
Honesty and accountability are not necessarily intertwined.

Greenberg, is Noah Baumbach’s best movie since The Squid and the Whale. Much of the pretentiousness and tweeness of his recent efforts are gone. It’s still a character study in how we deal with failure, but many of the side characters are better fleshed out than, say, Margot at the Wedding.
Also, Ben Stiller does a great job with unease, unease in his own skin, around others and in his out of place surroundings. Like the line from Barfly, it’s not that I don’t like people, I just feel better when they’re not around. That’s Roger.
The plot’s pretty simple. Roger Greenberg is staying at his much richer brother’s LA house for six weeks, in from New York and after a recent breakdown. His brother’s gone on vacation.
Roger tells himself he’ll use the time to do nothing. Truth is, Roger hasn’t done anything, really, in the last 15 years when he blew his only chance at a music career. He tells himself he didn’t want to sell out, but in the intervening years it’s hard to sell out when there’s no one left to sell out to.
At his brother’s house, he falls for his brother’s personal assistant, a rootless and drifting 26 year old named Florence.
I don’t want to give away much more, but I can say Florence doesn’t suffer from Manic Pixie disease that so often happens in these May/Late September movies. She’s often just as enigmatic and hard to pin down as the title character. She has her own issues and love may not be a means to overcome.
In other words, she’s not a symbol to Roger or the story. That’s nice. (An aside, man did I dislike Garden State.) In fact, in a movie that would, in lesser hands, generally be filled with characters who exist to teach Roger Greenberg an important lesson about life, Greenberg has none.
They have problems of their own and see their lives, their shared pasts and the world differently than Roger Greenberg. It’s Roger’s shit that Roger has to cope with.
Oh, the music throughout is fantastic and not at all as precious as in similar movies.
My only complaint is that some of the very young twenty-year-olds in the movie’s last party were drawn with a pretty broad brush, especially when Greenberg is haranguing them about the differences between his generation and theirs.
In the end, Greenberg isn’t really a love story as it so could be. That’s a good thing.
It’s about being 42 and fucked up.
I can relate.

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