I get that we have a man returning and readjusting to life in LA after decades of being away. I get that he's now a walker, he no longer drives, he's probably used to taking the subway in NYC. I get that he can't handle water but he's back in a sunshiny land stuffed with swimming pools. I get the comedic touches about his social inadequacy, his recent trip to the "hospital," his mental instability, his quirky outbursts. I get that he's frigid toward the world, locked into himself even as his selfishness creates bad conversations and sex. I get that he can't laugh at himself and I get that it's all part of the joke. His quibbles, the fact that he writes letter after complaining letter to corporate empires around the globe lamenting their methods and service, when in fact he can't even cop to all the shortcomings he has --
I get it.
And finally, I get the film's mantra, which beats itself relentlessly into one's skull: "Hurt people hurt people." Fine. We get it. How clever. How trite. How vacuous. How true. Whatever.
Mantra or not, black comedy or not, chuckle or no chuckle, this Greenberg guy is just a jerk. That it's Ben Stiller's finest performance offers very little consolation. There's no reason for the story to be a film just as there's no reason for anyone to watch it, or for me to ever visit it again. It's characters are like giant holes walking a nameless and faceless earth. They are holes, which suck everything into them, remaining giant, gaping and empty. The narrative sucks, too. It sucks into the hole of itself like a "dialogue-ian" vacuum cleaner. There is no hope for any character. No hope, no progress, no redemption, no future. No spirituality or longing for even humanistic improvement. Nada. There is nothing here. And Ben Stiller as Greenberg only finds enlightenment and a clearer form of thinking by accidentally crashing a party (which happens in his home) and tripping and getting wasted with a bunch of kids. Oh, gee, Wally, thanks for the enlightenment.
Anyone who buys into any of this is like a duped gull buying swampland in Florida.
Can you imagine a hole that stands and walks around invisibly but constantly sucks in other things no matter where it goes? Can you imagine it sucking in conversations and good intentions and cordial sociability and kind words, and sucking in sex and alcohol and drugs and regret, but the hole never spits anything back out? Not even vomit -- this Hole spits nothing? Can you imagine being this Hole and actually trying to perceive peace or truth, or, I don't know, a feeling of some kind of newness about the fact that it will always be and remain a giant gaping Hole?
Baumbach is proving to simply be "not my guy to watch". His films are relentlessly boring as he pursues these "real life" characters who are cardboard cutout flats without shine, but only dull with spot and wrinkle. His characters are afraid of confronting any of their own negativity, admitting any of their own fragility, and more importantly, admitting to another their apologies for wrong action. His characters are afraid of change, healing, redemption, or any other reason we might have to want to watch them in a movie. Quite frankly, if his characters came to life and happened along my path and befriended me, I would quickly grow weary of them and for my own sake I'd need to cut them loose. There are certain bridges that you burn so as to not get sucked into the hole. The characters would complain that their friend "dropped them like a rock." The characters wouldn't realize how much life they continually suck out of everyone else.
Greenberg's girlfriend in the film is Florence, and should she decide to stay with this miserable wretch, the world for her really is as dreary as it is dank.