A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this darkly comedic drama is not meant for kids. Director Noah Baumbach, as in his other films, stakes his film firmly in messy, sometimes caustic, emotional terrain -- one character has just been discharged from a mental hospital, another gets an abortion -- that may be too mature for most teens. The film's protagonist (Ben Stiller) is a malcontent who rails against injustices small and large -- especially small. Swearing (everything from “asshole” to “dick” to “f--k”) and insults are part of his usual patter. His love interest endures continuous emotional battering, and comes back for more. There’s also a fairly graphic oral sex scene, and a scene where an adult does cocaine with college students.
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What's the story?
After being released from a psychiatric hospital, New Yorker Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) travels to L.A. to house-sit and dog-watch for his brother (Chris Messina) while he vacations with family in Thailand. Unsure of what to do next, Roger claims he’s “doing nothing on purpose.” He spends his days walking the dog and writing complaints to airlines, pet taxis, Starbucks, and everything else in between. He also catches up with a former bandmate (Rhys Ifans) and ponders how they once were musicians on the brink of fame. Plus, he gets to know -- and pulls back from -- his brother's personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig). At 25, Florence is impatient for the world to reveal its master plan to her, and unsure of her next move. She falls for Roger despite how his destructive nature often outmaneuvers his need to connect.
Is it any good?
GREENBERG begins with Gerwig, and from that moment on, the film is hers; she gives Florence a loudly beating heart and a determined stride. This makes her twentysomething ennui and terror compelling and believable. And then there’s Stiller. It’s hard to hug a porcupine, and he makes for a good one. As Roger, he exhibits -- and sheds -- more layers than he ever has in his career. He’s rude, selfish, and myopic, but also bewildered, yearning, and scared. For their performances alone, it’s worth seeing the film.
It’s also freshly conceived, totally humane and gorgeous, too, and may be director Noah Baumbach’s best movie yet. The Squid and the Whale distilled parental self-absorption within a very specific time and place, but this film’s much less claustrophobic; we feel the story instead of observe it. Which may explain why we feel so frustrated in the end, too. Roger and Florence feel like such real people, it’s hard to believe in a happily ever after (or even a while). In the end, Roger’s metamorphosis seems rushed and inauthentic, and Florence’s acceptance of him nearly pathetic. When Roger tells her she has “value,” we long for her to truly believe it.
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