Florence Marr is a down-and-out house sitter living in Los Angeles. Her days are spent running errands for Phillip Greenberg and his family, and her nights are spent in search of companionship. When Phillip leaves town with his family for an extended trip, his brother Roger comes to watch after his home. Having recently recovered from a mental breakdown, Roger finds himself at a strange place in his life. Rather than work, he spends his day writing complaint letters to various organizations. Roger and Florence strike up an uneasy friendship, and the pair embark on an tumultuous relationship. All the while, Roger uses his time in L.A. to catch up with old friends and heal old wounds.
You know that one friend you have that everybody else hates being around? That's Roger Greenberg. His humorous tics and spontaneous behavior don't hide the fact that he is, on the whole, a despicable human being. And yet, there's just something about him that compels you to want to know more about him. In most films, the motivations of the main character are clear-cut. For Greenberg, things are a little more ambiguous. He is the embodiment of a fleeting glance; he's not out to get the girl or to find his place in life. Roger just wants to maintain his existence, and the inevitable knowledge that his stint in L.A. is temporary aids in this characterization.
What sets Greenberg apart is its ability to tell a fairly unique story in a surprisingly unremarkable way. Baumbach captures the feel of an everyman-type daily interaction with some very quirky characters. While on the surface the film looks like a romantic "˜dramedy, it's really a pure character piece. Greta Gerwig is introduced as the principle character, but she manages to disappear for long stints while Greenberg tries to make peace with his former band mates and his brother. Rhys Ifans is particularly brilliant as Greenberg's only real friend, Ivan. I found their interactions to be much more interesting than the on-and-off again relationship between Roger and Florence.
Overall, the humor in Greenberg stems mostly from Roger's ineptitude at normal social interaction. His complaint letters and coke-fueled house party are the only real laugh-out-loud moments; it is here that Stiller gets that certain twinkle in his eye that lets you know he's still the same funnyman on the inside. For the most part, the rest of Greenberg's psychosis is merely chuckle-worthy.
In a lot of ways, this film is a welcome departure for Stiller. Despite it's endearing moments (most of which involve a sick dog), Greenberg still seems to fall short of impressive. The funny parts aren't funny enough to call this a true comedy, but on the other hand the drama does carry with it a depth that most directors would be hard-pressed to duplicate. There is a certain amount of shackled brilliance to be had in Greenberg; once you leave the theater, you find yourself still pondering what was wrong with that awful, indecisive man "¦ and that's what makes this film good.