Let's Watch 'Greenberg' Instead of 'It's a Wonderful Life' On Christmas Eve This Year


I held off on watching Greenberg because every single person/reviewer was like, "OH MY GOD SO DARK, Ben Stiller is so loathsome, just the worst." I'm not very into movies largely populated by loathsome characters; I just don't find it all that amusing or exciting to watch people be miserable assholes to each other for 90 minutes. But then a few Thursday nights ago I slept like hell and on Friday I didn't have heaps of work to do, so I took a sick day. First I watched Frances Ha, the first Greta Gerwig movie I've ever seen. Frances Ha bugged me for the first half-hour or so, but then I loved it and I loved Greta Gerwig and I wanted more of her. I watched The Dish & The Spoon (wonderful, adorable, such a weird sweet heartbreaker), and then I watched Hannah Takes the Stairs (two and a half out of four stars), and then I watched goddamn Greenberg. I put it on because it was there to be watched, and told myself I could shut it off at any time if I started hating everyone in a life-sucking sort of way.
       But I loved loved loved Greenberg; it was very much the highlight of Greta Gerwig Sick Day Film Fest. To me there is absolutely nothing loathsome about Greenberg the movie, or about Greenberg the character. I truly have zero understanding of why anyone would hate Roger Greenberg, and the only explanation I can come up with is so cynical, something about people being too ungenerous and unimaginative to feel any love for someone who has a hard time living in the world; they mistake his anxiety for aggression because it makes them anxious too. Is that it? I really don't know.
      I recognize that Roger is an asshole but I don't quite hold it against him, though I don't feel bad for him either. He's a kicked puppy who's done all the kicking himself, and he's sort of trying to stop and maybe he's going to work it out. I thought it was so sweetly hopeful. So that's the main reason why you should watch Greenberg instead of It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve this year, if you're into the ritual of watching edifying and delightful movies the night before Christmas. Here are four more reasons, and they don't even include Chris Messina and Mark Duplass and Serge Gainsbourg and "Jet Airliner," although of course that's all important too:

RHYS IFANS. I have three main dude types: the first is the dark-haired, slightly bug-eyed, vaguely Ichabod Crane-esque look of Ian Svenonius and the guy who played Josh on 30 Rock; the second is that sandy/pasty/hair-color-matches-skin-tone thing best represented by the Culkin Brothers and Vincent Kartheiser and the first boy I loved in L.A.; and the third is the rugged Welsh beauty of beautiful Rhys Ifans. He's the Greenberg character I'd most want to hang out with, he's so irrepressibly kind and patient with Roger; he's got lovely manners and that cool beaten-down-by-life-but-still-totally-chill vibe. I love his beard, his blondeness, his nice blonde beard. I love the first scene he's in, with Ivan and Roger's amazing conversation about the movie Gung Ho. All of Greenberg is worth watching for that goofy little 13-second chat about the movie Gung Ho, this I swear to you.

MAHLER. The best movie dog ever, maybe? Marissa made this cool point about how Roger's carefulness with Mahler is one of the things that most redeems his character, which is neat to think about in the context of Wes Anderson and that theory of how "offhand and  abrupt acts of canine disregard are examples of the slightly anti-social lack of sentimentality that runs through all of Anderson’s work." And when Roger wakes up on the floor after the party and looks up to see Mahler's cute li'l paws hanging over the edge of the couch, my heart just sings. I want a German Shepherd for Christmas. Also: a cinnamon tree.

FLORENCE. Before I saw Frances Ha my friend Rachel told me that Frances reminded her of me. And then I watched the movie and spent the first half-hour deeply worried that I'm generally perceived as someone who galumphs around acting like a complete idiot all the time. My big prob with Frances Ha, initially, was I just felt like "Nobody is this much of an idiot. You couldn't be this idiotic and exist in the world and not, like, die." But then I got over that, because it's not true, and I started to love Frances and her bonkers exuberance. In Greenberg that joie de vivre is a little tempered but it's still palpable, in Florence. They made so many brill choices with her character, like how she sings a Shawn Colvin song at her show and it's both beautiful and lame, but mostly beautiful, and how she wears her rad Henry's Tacos shirt with that big chunky cardigan, and how she's got a copy of the Sarah McLachlan album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy on CD in her car.

And then that scene when Florence is drunk and singing and dancing around to "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" in her apartment: that is the scene of my heart. Of course Florence loves Paul McCartney, specifically Ram-era Paul. It's whimsical and fanciful but still a little melancholy, and there's some kind of reaching for something lovelier and groovier than what you mostly get in the real world. Plus I never knew the lyric was "Hands across the water, heads across the sky" - I thought Paul and Linda were singing "hands" both times. But "Heads across the sky" is so good. Florence has her head in the sky, kind of, but she's still really good at being on Earth. That is so true to the spirit of Paul.

Oh and that part in the "Uncle Albert" scene when she's talking on the phone: we really need more cinematic representations of "what it's like sometimes when women wear tights." The only other one I can think of is Courtney Love in 200 Cigarettes, making out topless with Paul Rudd in the bar bathroom, her fishnets pulled up to her belly button. Super-real.

ROGER. I've hardly ever agreed with any other fictional character more than when Roger and Ivan are at Musso & Frank's and some loudmouth nerd at the next table is clapping in response to a joke, and Roger says the thing about how "Laughter already demonstrates appreciation - the applause seems superfluous." I feel like that's one of those lines that people who hate Greenberg/Greenberg are put off by, but I'm of the opinion that criticism of obnoxious/hyper-extroverted behavior isn't necessarily a symptom of misanthropy. I mean yeah he's a total dick about it, but I think it's nice and refreshing to see someone making a case for the relative underratedness of being a little quieter.

My favorite Roger moment though is when he's making the mix CD for Florence and blasting "Strange" by Galaxie 500 in the house, alone, getting really nerdy about it and making mixtape notes in his dumb little notebook. When he puts the asterisks on the CD, I get teary-eyed. Those asterisks are so lame and beautiful too.

Also Ben Stiller's delivery of the line "Shall we split the Corona?" is so perfect, I die every time. I mean why can't more guys be like that: stealing your Corona Light, compulsively reapplying their chapstick, serving store-bought guac and chips and creamsicles at their loser-y pool parties, ripping apart James Franco's brother and all the other horrible millennials but being terrified of them too (and owning up to that), making "whiskey" and "ice cream sandwhiches [sic]" the sole items on their grocery list. It's all so endearing, and stupidly tender. Roger Greenberg endears me to no end. Here's a good Christmas carol for everyone:


  1. YES YES YES! I love that movie dog.

  2. I saw this in the theater with some friends for my birthday and then afterward my friend and I disagreed about what the "point" of it was. I thought it was hopeful and I guess she thought it was just a glimpse into a miserable life? I think about the abortive birthday dinner and "This is great coke music" all the time.