REVIEW: The Unfulfilled Potential of Ben Stiller's 'Greenberg'

When I first saw the trailer for Ben Stiller’s new film “Greenberg,” I hoped for the best. With the recent Oscar win for Sandra Bullock, an actress who clearly stepped out of her comfort zone to play the lead role in “The Blind Side,” I was hoping that Ben Stiller, an actor known for his successful comedies, could do the same. Unfortunately, his new film “Greenberg” is a solid disappointment that ultimately fails in a genre that it could have succeeded in with a better script and more interesting characters.

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Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a recent mental hospital patient. While his brother and family take a vacation to Vietnam, Greenberg lives in their California home to care for the dog. While there, Greenberg connects with an old band-mate who has since grown up and now has a wife and a child. As the story progresses, Greenberg also begins to form a relationship with the personal assistant who works for his brother’s family.

During his stay, the audience is introduced to Mr. Greenberg and all of his quirks and eccentricities. One of the first things we learn about him is his affinity for writing letters of complaints to companies. Greenberg also seems to be a desperate loner looking for direction in life. Years before, he had a chance for success in a band and now that missed opportunity is in his rear-view mirror as he continues to struggle with his own future. In one scene, he talks about going back to school for another degree but that would take too long due to his propensity for procrastination.

The overall premise sounds promising but its execution is extremely disappointing. Greenberg, who seems relatable on paper, is dislikable onscreen. He’s often self-centered and mean-spirited towards others, including the personal assistant he befriends. There are times I liked him and understood his predicament, but those times were often overwhelmed when his personality showed through and the other side of him filled the screen.

Additionally, the movie is often slow, meandering from scene to scene with no real purpose. There are certain scenes and developments I enjoyed but the characters are just too unlikable, making it hard to relate or empathize. And when the characters face difficult circumstances, it’s often difficult to understand their motivation. They make serious decisions without seriously considering them.

On the other hand, there are some enjoyable elements, some funny parts involving the backstory of Greenberg’s past experiences with his band. And there’s one confrontation near the end between Greenberg and his former band mate that stands out as a particularly well-done and honest scene about the possibilities the band and Greenberg once had. However, this isn’t enough to compensate for the rest.

Ben Stiller does a good job playing against type. I only wish the script shared the same potential Stiller seems to have as a dramatic actor. “Greenberg” is the kind of movie some critics may love. However, viewers will likely be disappointed in a movie about an unhappy man who is often disappointed with the world around him.

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