DVD Releases: Greenberg, From Paris With Love, Youth in Revolt
Greenberg (on DVD now): While a mild improvement from the enormously unpleasant Margot at the Wedding, writer/director Noah Baumbach has given us another wildly unpleasant “comedy” which suffers because no one cares about the fate of an asshole. Ben Stiller plays Greenberg, a man who has serious anxiety issues and is prone to blow up on someone out of the blue as if he has a serious mental disease. We’re supposed to root for him to let someone in, and we’re supposed to root for the housekeeper Florence (Greta Gerwig) because she understands that there’s so much more to Greenberg than he lets on. The problem for a movie audience is if he doesn’t let on that there’s more to him, then all we see is the mean, weird, and creepy exterior, which makes us dislike his character and then find Florence pathetic for fawning after him so blindly. I can acknowledge that some of the writing is sharp, a few of the performances are fine in that indie comedy minimalist sort of way, and that there will be people who enjoy films like this. However, for me to enjoy it, I would have preferred more laughs, more heart, or a lead character who’s more than just an asshole. The fact that the film feels personal makes me deeply concerned for Baumbach’s well-being, since even though he can’t help us to sympathize with Greenberg, he clearly views him as a character worthy of sympathy. I found him to be a character worthy of needing further therapy, not worthy of spending two hours with as he alienates those around him and Baumbach lays heavyhanded symbolism on us.
From Paris With Love (on DVD now): Pierre Morel, the director of Taken, brings us another film with American badasses looking to kill as many evil European cronies as possible. There are some amusing moments, mostly provided by John Travolta existing in “John Travolta as psycho” mode (something we’re very familiar with now from films like Face/Off and The Taking of Pelham 123), and certainly the action is diverting enough. However, the reason why Taken was as fun as it was rested on the shoulders of Liam Neeson and her performance, and unfortunately, neither Jonathan Rhys-Meyers or John Travolta compares as a thespian to Neeson. Morel makes up for this by making the film less gritty and grim, but that also makes it more disposable as a result. Kasia Smutniak as Rhys-Meyers’ wife has a good presence, and while Rhys-Meyers is bland as can be (he’s better in darker fare than he is as the quippy good-looking action star), he’s at least pleasant on screen. There’s a preposterous twist two-thirds of the way through this film that you’ll see coming a mile away and not really care about at all. This indicates to me that while I didn’t hate the film, it was never going to leave an imprint on my mind. It’s a “Sunday afternoon on TNT” film, the kind you watch if it’s on TV and nothing better is on.
Note: this movie does have the best tagline so far this year: “Two Agents. One City. No Merci.”
Youth in Revolt (on DVD now): Between this and August’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Michael Cera has had a terrific year. People often accuse Cera of being nothing more than a one-note gimmick, which inspires two thoughts in my mind: 1. The overwhelming majority of distinct individuals who star in movies have a specialty that they play in nearly all of their films, so why blame Cera for this? 2. Those people haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim or Youth in Revolt, the Miguel Arteta film released in January. It follows Nick Twisp (Cera), a kid who lives in a trailer, whose mom (Jean Smart) dates idiots (Zach Galifianakis and later Ray Liotta), and who’s never been in love– until he meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The problem is she prefers a bad boy– so Twisp creates the persona Francois Dillinger (also played by Cera) to try to win the girl and escape from life. I’m not familiar with the beloved book it’s based on, but I’ll say this movie continued to twist and turn in ways I didn’t expect and captured the awkwardness of these characters without mocking them or making it so uncomfortable that we didn’t want to laugh anymore. Arteta is a master of this style of comedy, having directed terrific episodes of The Office and Freaks and Geeks and a quality indie comedy about other down-on-their-luck misfits, The Good Girl. However, Cera is the real winner here, bouncing between his normal persona and his badass persona with ease. By the end, I was constantly surprised by the turns in the plot (a good sign), and I was invested in the characters (an even better sign). It’s an unusual film, and I can see why it bombed at the box office because it’s so strange, but it’s definitely worth giving a chance on DVD– it has the makings of a cult hit.