With only nine Greenberg reviews to go by this morning it was hard to guess which direction the critical consensus tipping point would topple. Now with twice as many critics weighing in, it’s safe to say the scale is tilting strongly toward a positive reaction.
Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal:
This is a new departure for Mr. Baumbach, even though he might seem to be working the same territory of neurotic dysfunction and mutual need that he explored, sometimes relentlessly, in “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding.” What’s new is the combination of warmth and reserve. The film is extremely entertaining‚Äîa real romance, however tortured it may be‚Äîyet tough-minded and confidently self-contained…
A movie with an off-putting hero represents a huge risk. Messrs. Baumbach and Stiller made a bet that we would stay with Roger, and the film, until things took a turn for the better. The bet pays off beautifully‚Äînot because the hero is revealed to be nice, but because he reveals himself to be human in a series of startling rages and astonishing monologues that lead to a pleasing climax (and an inspired shot of a giant red balloon-man, arms and legs flapping wildly.) Roger delivers one monologue to Florence’s phone mail, and another to a bunch of heedless twenty-something kids at a party. It’s a poignant expression of mortality by a man who’s finally growing into his life.
A.O. Scott, The New York Times:
Although Roger Greenberg is a world-class narcissist, ‚ÄúGreenberg‚Äù is not all about him. It is the funniest and saddest movie Mr. Baumbach has made so far, and also the riskiest. Mr. Stiller, suppressing his well-honed sketch comedian‚Äôs urge to wink at the audience, turns Roger into a walking challenge to the Hollywood axiom that a movie‚Äôs protagonist must be likable. But Mr. Baumbach, relishing his antihero‚Äôs obstinate difficulty ‚Äî which is less an inability to connect with other people than a stubborn refusal, on hazy grounds of principle, to try ‚Äî treats Roger with compassion, even tenderness.
And in finding others who are willing, sometimes against their best interests, to venture that kind of generosity, he turns what might have been a case study of neurosis into an exploration of loneliness, friendship and the sense of emotional deprivation that can fester in a landscape of comfort and privilege.
David Denby, The New Yorker:
This is tricky, ambiguous material, seemingly better fitted to a short literary novel than to a movie, and it could have gone wrong in a hundred ways, yet Baumbach handles it with great assurance. In long scenes between Greenberg and Marr, he says something amusing and mean, and she, because she‚Äôs either too kind or too surprised, doesn‚Äôt come back at him. The characters can‚Äôt get any kind of rhythm going, but the actors hold the bumpy conversations in tension. The scenes don‚Äôt lose their pace or their shape; they sustain a ruffled, poignant mood. And Baumbach is smart about injured pride; Greenberg looks up his old friends from the band (Rhys Ifans and Mark Duplass), and they‚Äôre glad to see him, but they also feel betrayed by him. Ifans, so often a madcap, uses his rounded baritone and a new autumnal manner to suggest a man trying to keep himself calm. His marriage is falling apart, and he wants to hang on to what he‚Äôs got. Greenberg‚Äôs arrogant luftmensch routine is infuriating‚Äîeveryone but him wants to live in the here and now. And this movie, for a change, gives daily life in Los Angeles a warm, sunlit feeling. The city is a decent place to make a life, instead of a ruined paradise or a metaphor for chaos and emptiness…
Poor Greenberg can‚Äôt accept mediocrity, but, an aesthete without an art, he doesn‚Äôt know how to get himself anywhere. Honorably, the movie is not the usual rigid-arc fable of redemption. It insists that screwed-up people have a right to their oddities, but it also holds out the hope that they will learn a little bit about life and move on.
A few critics remain un-wooable.
Betsy Sharkey, LA Times:
Noah Baumbach’s favorite terrain is deconstructing life’s emotional ups and downs with characters so narcissistic and self-delusional they make everyone on screen and off as uncomfortable as possible. With “Greenberg,” the writer-director who came to prominence with 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale” has reached new highs or new lows, depending on your point of view.
(Guess which point of view Sharkey has.)
The nanny/personal assistant/possible girlfriend Florence, one of “Greenberg’s” few rays of light in Greta Gerwig’s good hands, puts it best. In trying to explain away yet another injury to her psyche about midway through the film, she says, “Hurt people hurt people.”
The same could be said of Baumbach’s relationship with his audience, with “Greenberg” his angriest, most conflicted and most painful movie yet…
There is a lot more mucking around in the emotional crises that come with growing older, if not quite growing up, but much of the spot-on nuance the filmmaker brought to “Squid” has gone missing. In “Greenberg” it’s sometimes difficult to figure out whether it’s Roger or Baumbach who has lost his way.
But let’s end on an upbeat note.
Lisa SchwarzbaumEntertainment Weekly:
The story (which is co-credited to the director and his wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays Roger’s ex-girlfriend) is set outside Baumbach’s comfort zone of affluent Manhattan and Brooklyn. Instead, Greenberg unfolds in an alien, Woody Allenish Los Angeles where everyone drives except You Know Who. After unspecified psychiatric hospitalization, the emotionally fragile Roger ‚Äî a sometime carpenter ‚Äî mooches at his rich brother’s ritzy home while bro and family are off vacationing in trendy Vietnam. Gerwig plays Florence, the family’s personal assistant, dropping in to pet-sit the dog. Roger’s old friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) stops by too, even though Roger screwed the guy over years ago when the two were in a band. Nothing good happens during the course ‚Ä® of the movie ‚Äî and Baumbach seems to be saying, Take it or leave it. I, for one, take it.
Although Greenberg is Baumbach’s most self-lacerating picture yet, there is something undeniably compelling about the surgical precision with which the filmmaker picks at neuroses that feel very personal. I hope that one day Baumbach will tell the story of a man who has learned how to live in his own skin. In the meantime, his movies are addictive dispatches from a genteel jungle of white privilege, where highly educated people behave badly. I can’t take my eyes off the exotic wildlife.