Greenberg: A Cautionary Tale

  I’m not the biggest Noah Baumbach fan. I wasn’t too crazy about Kicking and Screaming, hated Margot at the Wedding and he co-wrote my least favorite Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic (also one of my least favorites of the decade ). That said he made the wonderful Squid and the Whale so I figured at some point that would be enough to get me to see Greenberg. Even walking into the theater I had mixed expectations. Quickly they were exceeded. Greenberg is Baumbach’s best film to date and arguably the best Ben Stiller performance (Don’t let the Fockers or Zoolander fool you, Ben has always been capable of good dramatic work as in Permanent Midnight and Your Friends and Neighbors). In addition Greta Gerwig gives a great performance which hopefully will get her the attention she deserves as an actress. There is a lot to praise about this film but this post isn’t really a review – it’s about my fear that I could become Greenberg.

Greenberg is 41 in the film. Florence (Gerwig) is 25. I am 30. There is a scene towards the end of the film in which Greenberg is at a party filled with mostly 20 year olds. Obviously he feels out of place but also joins in conversation with them, does some coke and is ultimately mocked by many of these 20 somethings. I am closer in age to Florence and the 20 somethings…most of my friends fall into that age range. I fall into the middle ground and in theory could be the kids or Greenberg. That said I related far more to Greenberg. The fact is I always related far more to Greenberg. If I saw this film at 18 I would have gravitated towards his views more than my peers. I prefer the music he listens to more than the kids (although to be fair one minor flaw with the film is I feel that Baumbach’s 20 somethings are more how he perceives 20 somethings and not real 20 somethings). I agree with all the views in the letters Greenberg writes. Neither of us can really swim. Although I strive to sell a screenplay I understand how it feels to lose that drive and have a desire only to do nothing. I wildly pine for and over romanticize my past relationships and those women. And biggest of all Greenberg holds on to the past and in my own way I do too. For me it is refusing (and taking bizarro pride in refusing) to tweet or Facebook or give in to what I believe are lesser forms of real communication we have passing for real communication in this day and age. I’ve been planning a “why the internet should be destroyed” post for awhile but haven’t written it up yet. Although he doesn’t go into detail I feel Greenberg feels the same way (there are brief comments about MySpace and fucking on the internet).

Where we differ is I feel I am far less self centered, certainly would have been kinder to Florence, can laugh at myself and would have taken that record deal in a heartbeat. But how will I be in eleven years? Eleven years of no script sales or dead end romantic encounters? Greenberg had a nervous breakdown. I’m sure I never will but…

So am I doomed to become Greenberg? Is this film a cautionary tale for someone like me?  Maybe that’s why I love it. Many people I know hate a film that holds the mirror up to them. I love those films most of all be it the characters in Me and You and Everyone We Know desperately trying to make human connections or the doomed romance in (500) Days of Summer or Woody Allen’s views on life in general. In these films I see my own feelings reflected for better or worse. Once again why film is so important to me – it’s not just my entertainment, it’s also my therapy.      


2 Responses to “Greenberg: A Cautionary Tale”

  1. I remember when I was sixteen I was put on a basketball team via the YMCA with supposed-to-be 16-18 year olds. Turns out I was on the 12-14 year old team, but since I’d already forked over the money, they allowed me on the team. I made the only scoring shot that season.

    I train with a coach who – when he’s not doing more private sessions at other tracks – has me meet up with him at a local high school at around 3pm. At times I run with the whole lot of students, from freshmen to seniors. It helps that I don’t always look my age (25) but I often feel so out of place when the kids ask if I’m on the team.

    I don’t really know what the aforementioned has to do with anything; if anything they lie along the veins of “how the hell did I get here?” and “WTF am I doing?” Life seems to enjoy being unbearably obnoxious during crucial transition periods, and while it’s frightening, it doesn’t necessarily spell disaster. The-general-you are only doomed to ‘become Greenberg’ if you let it get to you. Be glad you’re 30. That said, I really enjoyed the film. Such a great ending… I wanted more.

  2. […] have already written extensively on my love and fear of Greenberg in previous posts ( so you should probably check that out for a more detailed view. That said Greenberg is Noah […]

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