yearzerowriters

Greenberg – FILM REVIEW [By Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo]

In Gupter Puncher/Oli Johns on June 3, 2010 at 2:39 pm

A BBC radio studio, Mayo at the helm, Kermode sitting opposite.

Simon: Okay, we’re gonna leave Colin with the lovely…er, the lovely Mei Sawai…and move right onto the films of the week…and-…

Mark: You’re gonna leave him?

Simon: …apologies for being late with-…yeah, who? Colin?

Mark: You’re actually gonna leave him with…

Mark points at a space in the studio.

Simon: What?

Mark: You’re leaving him with…you said you were leaving him with…whats-her-name?

Simon: Mei Sawai.

Mark. Yes. Mei Sawai, the…the Japanese adult-…

Simon: The adult video star.

Mark: Exactly.

Pause.

Mark: And you think he’ll be alright?

Simon: With Mei Sawai?

Mark: Er, yes.

Pause.

Simon: Well, we might go back for him later.

Mark: Might go back for him later…

Simon: In an hour, two hours maybe…

Mark: And meanwhile I’m stuck here with you…as Colin gets to-…

Simon: Stuck with each other…

Mark: Ha, yes, with each other, and Colin gets to be stuck with the lovely…er…the lovely…

Simon: The lovely Mei Sawai…

Mark: There’s no parity…there’s just no-…

Simon: …Japanese adult video person…I’m sorry, are you still interested in film?

Mark: …parity, equality, whatever we’re-…yes, I’m  still interested. I’m waiting for you. Whenever you’re ready.

Simon: Really…

Mark: Shoot. Give me an introduction.

Simon: Okay, so apologies for now being even later with the films of the week. Colin’s fault, really…

Laughing.

Simon: So, Mark, what have you got for us this week?

Mark: Okay, this week…this week we have something that-…I don’t really know how to start with this one and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I would say it’s a good thing, but…I suppose we’ll leave that open to everyone else…

Simon: Sorry, was that the title?

Mark: No…that was my disclaimer…you know, the thing I usually do before starting my reviews…

Simon: Oh…

Mark: No, the film title, Simon…is Greenberg, starring a very, very grouchy Ben Stiller, and directed by Noah Baumbach, who…you might remember did the excellent Squid and the Whale a few years back, and then went on to do the not so excellent but still fairly compelling Margot at the wedding with Nicole Kidman, who really got her bitch on with that film…I mean, it was just a really mean, caustic character, and…did you see that?

Simon: Which one?

Mark: Margot at the wedding. Or the Squid and the whale. Either one…

Simon: No, I don’t think I did…

Pause.

Mark: The eternal surprise of Simon Mayo’s film viewing history…

Simon: Come on, two films…

Mark: Every week I ask you have you seen this, have you seen that, and every week you have the incredible knack of not having seen anything…I mean, really, it’s getting very, very close to bordering on the ridiculous…yup, we’re on the border, we’re on it and…dear me…

Simon: I saw the Wedding Crashers…does that count?

Mark: The wedding crashers…you saw the Wedding Crashers…let me see…er, no, Simon, that does not count. That does not count in any sense of counting or-…

Simon: I’ve seen this one…

Mark: Which one? Greenberg?

Simon: Yeah. I saw it last night.

Mark: Okay, good, that’s one then.

Simon: Two…

Mark: Yes, two…that’s two films, one of which you had to see in order to review…

Pause.

Simon: I thought that was what you did…

Mark: Well, okay, yeah, I do the lion’s share, but you still have the opportunity to…to give your view, okay. It’s not Orwellian, I’m not some imperious, dominant figure sitting on you and forcing you to give little squeaks now and then…

Simon: Is this the review?

Mark: No, this is not the review. This is the disbelief that always precedes the review. The review will begin now. Are you ready?

Simon: Super ready.

Mark: So Greenberg, the latest film from Noah Baumbach, the guy who…if you don’t know him…helped to write some of the Wes Anderson films like Royal Tenenbaums and that other one…what was it called…The Life Aquatic? Yes, and then went on to direct Squid and the whale and Margot at the wedding with the bitch Nicole Kidman…or the bitchy Nicole Kidman I should amend…and now, so, we have Ben Stiller as the titular Greenberg…and, okay, to give you a quick outline of the plot…you’ve got the incredibly morose Greenberg…which is Ben Stiller with that permanent kind of pinch face he does in most of his films and…so you’ve got him coming to LA to housesit his brother’s house while he’s away in Vietnam…his successful brother who you only really see at the start of the movie, and…so, as he housesits he gets into this slightly weird, disjointed relationship with the brother’s assistant, played by a relatively fresh face…Greta Gerwig, I believe, who I haven’t seen before but have heard is burgeoning on the American indie scene…and in this film, she’s basically this unbelievably meek, passive doormat to Stiller’s neurotic aggressor…you know, it’s one of those relationships that can be almost mystifying to anyone watching it but still the kind of relationship you can believe happening between two people…and, so, the film itself, in essence, boils down to a series of encounters between Stiller and Gerwig, and how they kind of, you know, connect and disconnect with each other, and…

Simon: So nothing really happens then?

Mark: No…see, that’s not what I said. I said, a series of encounters where they connect and disconnect and…that doesn’t mean nothing happens…

Simon: It kind of does sound that way…

Mark: Well, to a man who never watches films, perhaps, I don’t know…but back to the film…

Simon: I watch films…

Mark: Back to the film…

Simon: I watched Greenberg…

Laughing.

Mark: Dear Lord…okay, back to the film…you’ve also got Stiller, at the same time as half-chasing Gerwig…you’ve got him meeting up with Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who are these people or almost-friends he used to hang around with a few years earlier…I think Ifans, who is excellent by the way and who I will come back to later, is a former bandmate of Greenberg’s and…you learn quite early on that they failed to land a contract to become successful, mostly because of Greenberg and the myriad issues he had and still has and is dealing with in this film, or not dealing with as the case seems to be…I mean, he does say at the start of the film that he’s trying to do nothing for a while and that is the character in summary basically…he’s trying to do nothing, because he has nothing to do…which, as the film goes on, has an increasingly miserable element to it…a kind of pitiable sense of pathos-…

Simon: This is still the synopsis?

Mark: What? No, this is not the synopsis. This is the text, the cream of the review. I mean, come on, we do this every week, you should know how this works by now. I explain the plot a little then seamlessly move into the…into the meat of the review itself and…this is what I do every week…

Simon: Is it?

Mark: Yes, it is. Every week…

Pause.

Simon: Last week you started with ‘this film is terrible’…

Mark: When?

Simon: Didn’t you?

Mark: When?

Simon: Last week, with the Travolta film…I can’t remember it’s name…and then you started talking about the production notes…

Pause.

Mark: Yes, From Paris with love, I know. But that was terrible, and Travolta was terrible and I only had two minutes and frankly that was my main point anyway…

Simon: That it was terrible?

Mark: Yes! And it was, it was horrid…just a horrid…horrid film…

Simon looks at his watch.

Mark: What? Are we running out?

Simon: Maybe you could tell us if this one is terrible or not…save some time.

Mark leans back and sucks in his lips.

Mark: The vacuous art of reviewing…okay, fine, I did have a whole balanced, mapped out critique ready to go, but for the sake of time I’ll plough on with the ‘is it terrible?’ question…

Simon: The listeners will be grateful…

Mark: Ha, yeah, because no one likes hearing about film…so, anyway, terrible? No, it’s far, far from it. Not even close to terrible, and the thing is, the thing the film does really well, and this surprised me a little as going into the film I wasn’t so sure about this…I wasn’t convinced Stiller had the ability to stretch himself dramatically in this way, and I thought, here we go, he’s gonna fall back on shtick and, you know, all the faces and beats he did in Meet the Parents and all those other…you know, the big films, the money spinners…which are, let’s face it, mostly terrible…but anyway, in this film, he doesn’t, and instead, amazingly, he somehow pulls it out of the hat. I mean, there are a few moments where he leans towards playing it broadly and…some big scenes where there’s a slight lack of consistency with what went before…and, okay, let me explain that a little…because I know it might come across as vague to anyone who hasn’t seen the film…

Simon: Which is most people…

Mark: Yeah…

Simon: Seeing as it’s not on general release until…thursday…

Mark: Yes, thank you, and that’s why I said I would explain it…which I’m trying to do, so…okay, there’s one scene in the film where Greenberg…pinch-face Ben Stiller… has just agreed to stay the night with Gerwig…the girl, the passive doormat…and things seem to be going well between them and, you know, you start to sense some kind of relationship springing up out of this, but then…then this amazing thing happens…and this is very rare in film in general…Gerwig, the girl, in this really, really annoyingly bubbly, joyous mood…she stands up, right, and starts to tell the most labored joke you have ever heard. And I am deadly serious, this joke and the delivery of the joke is…just…horrid…it’s abysmal, and, you know, it’s all in character of course, it’s not the actress, she’s great, it’s great, annoying acting completely in character, and… as she’s telling this horrid, horrid anecdote there’s a great shot of Stiller’s face, which as you can imagine is slowly getting more and more frustrated and disgusted…and I won’t spoil anymore for you, but basically what this scene does, and what the movie does as a whole…and does it very well I must add…is show in the same scene this entrenched kind of disgust Stiller has with his past, and yet, conversely, how connected he is to it…and by his past I’m referring to his twenties where it’s talked about during the film how, you know, things were going so well for him, but also, at the same time, so terribly…and this kind of sentiment, the idea of a twin feeling of joy and disgust, is actually very hard to convey in film, and make no mistake…Noah Baumbach absolutely nails it…he makes you believe in this character, he makes you believe in this film, and he almost…almost…makes you sympathise with Greenberg…which with a character this bitter is no mean feat.

Simon: Okay, running out of time now…to sum up, would you tell people to go see it?

Mark: In summation, yes, I would, emphatically…but…but with a caveat…otherwise I fear I may get lynched as…

Simon: A tie?

Mark: …there are a lot of Stiller-…what?

Simon: A caveat…isn’t that some kind of tie?

Pause.

Simon: Moving on then…

Mark: And Radio five loses yet another DJ…

Simon: Come on…it wasn’t that bad…

Mark: It was bad. It was very bad. It was…

Simon: Horrid?

Mark: Yes, it was horrid. A new level of horrid. But anyway, back to the tie…or the caveat, which every other normal person calls it…the thing about this film is…it can trick you. It can trick you because of the fact that, yes, it has Ben Stiller as the lead and, yes, the plot makes it seem like it’s going to be funny, but I have to warn any Ben Stiller fans out there…if you go into this film expecting anything in the same vein of Meet the Parents or one of the other compromises then you will not have a good time. You will not laugh, you will not be entertained, you will just sit there wondering what exactly is playing in front of you…and this won’t happen halfway through, this will happen at the start of the film…seriously…the very start, when we get a close up of Gerwig driving her car, not doing anything particularly dramatic, for…five…minutes…and that’s no exaggeration. Five minutes of pure face.

Simon: So nothing much happens…

Mark: Ha, no, not in the first five minutes, but for me, and anyone else with half a brain, this is a good thing, this is blessed relief from all the other dross I have to watch every week…you know, sitting through all the boom boom explosions and guns and frenetic cutting and, I don’t know, falling pianos and all that rubbish…and this one doesn’t do any of that. It starts slow, it takes its time, no rush, and it just plays out and for me, it’s perfect…a complete, beautiful antithesis of all the other rubbish I have to sit through…

Simon: So for people as difficult to please as Mark, go see this…

Mark: No, it’s not being difficult to please, it’s having standards. Standards, Simon.

Simon: Okay, standards. So, Greenberg, out this week, check it out if…you…have…standards and don’t want to see anything particularly funny…

Laughing.

Mark: Ha, can I just say one more thing…one quick thing…

Simon: One quick thing?

Mark: One more comment, yes…

Simon: When you say quick…

Mark: Rhys Ifans, in this film…oh shut up, I can be concise when I have to be…so, Rhys Ifans, he is back. Not in a showy way, he won’t make you laugh in this film, but I’ll tell you what he will do…he will make you nod and say yes, that is a very, very impressive performance of someone being completely overrun by this neurotic, bullying friend…which is pinch-face Stiller, of course…and the way he does it, the way his eyes always look downwards and his voice kind of just gives up on itself halfway through a sentence…it’s just…perfect, a perfectly pitched performance, and it makes you wonder…why doesn’t Rhys Ifans hit these heights more often?

Simon: That’s it?

Mark: Yes, that’s it. Finished. Rhys Ifans is back, Greenberg is very, very good. And John Travolta is still terrible.

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  1. Just wanna say, this is obviously not the real Mark Kermode, but the real Mark Kermode probably knew that already.

    It’s definitely Simon Mayo though.

    Oli

  2. Brody’s Sex Scene Put Hollywood Off New Horror Film…

    Canadian moviemaker Vincenzo Natali had to seek French help to fund his new horror film Splice, because Hollywood studio bosses were turned off by a sex scene between Adrien Brody and a creature his character had created.The director admits he struggle…

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