Baumbach’s third film is no more accessible than his first two (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) but don’t let that scare you off. Stiller is a self-absorbed combative 40-year-old who returns to Los Angeles to watch his brother’s house while away with his family in Vietnam. But instead of simply building a doghouse, he has to contend with the sudden illness of the dog and a budding relationship with the equally awkward his brother’s personal assistant Florence (Gerwig).
There is more: Greenberg also left behind a few relationships in the wake of what sounds like a pretty spectacular flameout. His best friend (and former band mate) Ivan (Ifans) may be clean and sober but still harbors anger at the fact that Greenberg ruined their only shot at a record contract.
What’s most amazing about Baumbach’s seemingly rambling drama is how well-defined his characters are. They could each top-line their own film. His ear for dialogue is so finely tuned, he captures people at their most unvarnished. These might not be folks who sound like people do in movies, but they sound like people we’ve all known, and that’s no small feat. The acting is strong across the board: Gerwig and Ifans shine the most in award-caliber turns; and Stiller brings the angry goods, especially in an uncomfortable late-in-the-game party sequence.
Bravo to Stiller for getting out of the Museum. Nominated for Best Feature, Best Male Lead (Ben Stiller), Best Female Lead (Greta Gerwig) and Best Cinematography (Harris Savides) at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. (Focus Features)