Following the footsteps of comedians from Jerry Lewis to Jim Carrey to Robin Williams, Stiller is exercising his serious acting chops, though not as dramatically as he does with his drug addict role in 1998’s “Permanent Midnight,” which bombed so badly Stiller bounced back to full-blown comedy with the “Meet the Parents” movies.
Now, he is walking a middle line as Roger Greenberg, a 40-year-old loser and determined to remain as such by being thoroughly unlikable. The saving grace for Stiller fans is the retention of his patented “Parents” schlemiel moves, bringing a few laughs to the almost pointless plot.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), “Greenberg” has its lead character just out of a mental ward and persistent about staying in limbo by doing nothing. Raised in Los Angeles and once a promising musician, he has moved back after 15 years in Manhattan to house-sit for vacationing wealthy brother, Phillip (Chris Messina).
Before long, he’s making love with little enthusiasm to Phillip’s personal assistant and dog walker, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig), who steals scenes with even less effort. Despite Greenberg’s relentless nastiness (“Hurt people hurt people,” he says), Florence unthaws his frozen heart, turning the film into one of Hollywood’s most unusual love stories.
Other than the twinge of emotion for Florence, Greenberg is consistent in his inability to connect with anybody, including his divorced ex-girlfriend Beth (coproducer Jennifer Jason Leigh) and ex-band mate Ivan Schrank (Rhys Ifans), who are trying to act like adults. He also has a dope-fueled generational confrontation with a group of 20 year olds, battling for DVD dominance of Duran Duran over Corn.
The question is…will Stiller be taken from the baby table at Oscar time? And, will “Greenberg” bring in greenbacks? Either way, it means the loss of another funnyman to “serious” cinema. Too bad, because the world could use a laugh.