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Laramie Movie Scope: Greenberg

A frustrating kind of guy

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 26, 2010 -- This movie is an intimate portrait of a guy who is frustrated by life's little challenges, like an airplane seat that won't recline. In turn, he frustrates everyone he comes in contact with his inappropriate behavior, his selfishness, his ultra-short temper and his inability to empathize with anyone. He sincerely believes that the reason he has no friends is that it is the fault of everyone else in the world. He may be a bit autistic.

This guy is Roger Greenberg (played by Ben Stiller of “Night at the Museum”). Roger arrives in Los Angeles from New York to house sit for his brother's family while they are out of town. A former musician-turned-carpenter, he also plans to build a dog house for the family dog. Roger has recently been released from a mental hospital because of a nervous breakdown. Despite that, his brother's assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig of “Nights and Weekends”) agrees to date him. Naturally, their relationship is rocky, but this is nothing new to Florence who is on the rebound from another bad romance. Even though Roger is not very likeable, she likes him. Roger, however, is not the kind of man who readily recognizes wonderful luck like this. He is determined to be free of romantic entanglements, well, not really determined.

In conversations with his old friends in L.A., with whom he was in a band that was once on the verge of signing a record deal with a major label, we find out that they blame Roger for killing that record deal. It turns out to be a little more complicated than that, and it also seems to be due to another facet of Roger's difficult personality. One of these friends, Ivan (Rhys Ifans of “Pirate Radio”) makes a noble attempt to befriend Roger and he does all kinds of errands for him. Roger, of course, repays him by being rude and ungrateful. That is just his way. After a last volley of insults and bad advice, he tells Florence, “I think Ivan and I have broken up.”

It turns out that Roger is not a total jerk. He helps take care of Florence when she has to go to the hospital and he takes good care of the family dog when it becomes ill. His brother is a jerk about the dog, yelling at Roger over the phone that he is not perfect enough in his care of the dog. It just goes to show Roger is not the only one in his family with an attitude problem. His brother is clearly wound too tight as well.

The story ends abruptly and seems incomplete, but then this is more of a character study than it is a real story. The characters in the film are vivid and they make indelible impressions. The acting is excellent all around. This film bothers me for two reasons. One, the main character is not likeable. Two, the main character has certain characteristics that remind me of my own failings as a person, and that is an unpleasant realization. Your own reaction to this movie will probably be different than mine. If you have a friend like Roger, you may find this film amusing. It may even allow you to revel in an aura of superiority. For me, it was just an uncomfortable, unpleasant experience. It rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)