I don’t think any filmmaker has such a disastrous record with me than Noah Baumbach. It’s not bad enough that I hate nearly every moment of his awful films, but that each seems like they should appeal to me. “Oh, this looks interesting,” I say. “Maybe Baumbach has made something good this time.”

He has not.

I hated the Baumbach-written and -directed Margot at the Wedding. He wrote Fantastic Mr. Fox and even though I’ve directed most of the blame for that huge letdown of a film toward Wes Anderson, all the dialogue problems I had in Fox are apparent in other Baumbach films more than Anderson’s. And their earlier collaboration, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, was also pretty awful. I hated his latest directorial and writing effort, Greenberg.

I hate him so much. It it- the- fl- flames. Flames, on the side of my face

Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, an aimless 40ish man fresh from from a stay in a mental institute. He heads to L.A. to house sit for his successful brother. While there he looks up his old friends, who have matured and moved on with their lives while he has not. Though, because it’s a Baumbach film, none of these friends are happy. Greenberg also strikes up a relationship with his brother’s nanny, Florence, played by Greta Gerwig. She’s much younger but also directionless. There’s no reason for them to be together, yet they each awkwardly pursue each other while he does something incredibly mean to her every fifteen minutes or so.

Save for one mini-revelation at the end, the plot goes nowhere and nobody changes. Including me, as I turned it off neither enlightened nor entertained.

As I’ve said time and again, a film choosing to be character rather than plot driven is fine with me. A quiet character study has a solid chance of charming me. It does help when the characters aren’t big self-made losers that are incredibly painful to watch, however. Characters need more characteristics than “whiny,” “mopey,” and “miserable.”

And the dialogue! Oh goodness, the dialogue. Sometimes I feel like Baumbach starts with a bunch of pithy observations then writes a plot around them. “Laughing already demonstrates appreciation,” Greenberg says when seeing a man clapping while laughing. “The applause just seems superfluous.” Fine, that’s a mildly amusing observation. But it’s also apropros of nothing in the scene and immediately forgotten. It reminds me of what I said about Margot at the Wedding, that the characters talk at each other instead of to each other. Greenberg doesn’t seem to have conversations. He says something and someone responds, perhaps on topic and perhaps not, then he says something unrelated. None of these discussions go anywhere, or at least not anywhere interesting.

I’m concerned that with Baumbach’s pedigree and the film’s mild financial success that the studio might make a play for an Original Screenplay nod. I think that’s a long shot, thankfully, but I fully expect it to clean up at the Independent Spirit Awards this year. I dig serious Ben Stiller so it’s too bad everything he does here is so cringeworthy. Gerwig is a rising star – actually already something of a star in the mublecore movement – but she really didn’t do anything for me here. This, naturally, would make her an Independent Spirit front-runner.

Your charms don't work on me!

Actually, maybe it would be nice for Greenberg to rack up some Indie nominations so the rest of the gang will watch it. Sometimes I’m sadistic like that. I look forward to us hating on this film for years to come.

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