You never quite believe the romance – if you can call it that – between Ben Stiller’s abusive, narcissistic New Yorker and Greta Gerwig’s dim, sweet, flake of a Los Angeles personal assistant in this feature from writer-director Noah Baumbach. Yet the movie still works. Baumbach has established himself as an accredited miseryologist (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding), and so Greenberg makes for a fascinating parallel character study of two people trapped in miserable lives because they’re either too smart (Stiller’s Greenberg is a former musician who shunned early success on principle) or too dumb (Gerwig’s Florence toddles through life like a barely aware child). Stiller shows, once again, that he’s capable of more than pissing matches with urinating monkeys, while Gerwig is even better: sunny, but with a palpable undercurrent of sadness. What does L.A. hold for a pretty, aimless young woman with little sense of self-preservation? The movie’s answer, alarmingly, is the far older, much meaner Greenberg, in town to visit his brother. Baumbach may think he’s found a rare happy ending when he puts these two together, but I highly doubt it.
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