I’ve become increasingly wary of coming-of-age type indie comedies. The generically ‘quirky’ characters and interchangeable suburban wastelands standardized in independent filmmaking over the past half-decade have driven me into a permanent suspicion of the genre. I don’t need to see another “Juno,” thanks. In fact, I feel like I see one every two or three months. Their attempts at droll realism feel increasingly tired and derivative, shedding all the charm that mumblecore--as some have come to call the market niche--was once defined by. While this is not necessarily a complaint of the trailer for Noah Baumbach’s upcoming film, “Greenberg,” I can’t help but watch the ad through a pane of cynicism.
But to give credit where credit is due, Baumbach was doing the precocious young adult thing back in 1995 with his debut film, “Kicking and Screaming,” (not to be confused with the Will Ferrell/Robert Duvall soccer-comedy/embarrassment of the same name) which was picked up for release by Criterion a few years back. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s the only Baumbach film I’ve seen, outside of “The Life Aquatic,” which he co-wrote with indie auteur Wes Anderson, and which I found infinitely underwhelming despite its strong premise and piercing volume of adamant hipster praise.
“Greenberg” stars Ben Stiller as the eponymous Roger Greenberg, whom we meet ‘at a crossroads in his life.’ Though the first couple of scenes in the recently released trailer reference Stiller’s character’s age, the actor has been curiously outfitted with a hairstyle (or hairpiece?) that makes him look younger than he has in years. The ‘do has a discouraging Farrelly brothers–esque quality to it that evokes their broad slapstick films rather than, for instance, Stiller circa “Royal Tenenbaums,” (an Anderson film I can get behind). They say ‘don’t judge a film by its stylist,’ or at least I say that, and the content of the trailer shows promise.
Stiller’s Greenberg is reminiscent of the Ron Livingston character in Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” for his articulated desire to do nothing. He has an amusing, jaded pretension to him that suits Stiller’s sensibilities, especially when the actor has portrayed himself in the past, as in HBO’s “Extras” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “Youth is wasted on the young,” a friend of Greenberg’s muses over dinner. “I’d go one further,” he retorts, “Life is wasted on… people.” Stiller’s delivery is convincing and it makes for one of the trailer’s funniest moments, along with a memorable scene featuring the writing of a sarcastic letter to Starbucks.
For the most part, however, “Greenberg” presents itself as a subtly ironic drama, and the remainder of the trailer features predominantly expository information about the character, sets up potential romantic interests (Greta Gerwig), and introduces a subplot involving a (potentially) terminally ill dog. One shot later on seems to border on the spoilerish, with Gerwig’s character addressing Greenberg from a hospital bed, but without context is impossible to fully interpret.
So, despite my initial fear that the prolificacy of indie cliché has usurped any legitimately quirky independent films, I think “Greenberg” could transcend the genre. I must confess to being a big fan of Stiller’s, even in his more broad roles, and have enjoyed the only Baumbach film I’ve seen. Consider me cautiously optimistic.
“Greenberg” hits theaters March 12th, 2010.
Trailer Grade: 3.5/5