Being Roger Greenberg

On a repeat viewing of Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg I still can’t decide how I feel about the film. I’ve landed on the vague and lazy stance of film purgatory: I neither love it or hate it. It might be the first film I’ve ever seen where I’m not even sure that it matters what I think of it, or take away from its story. There isn’t much story to take in the first place. But that’s okay. I think the film is about as close to a real life experience you can get. By that I mean that it hits a little too close to the bone for my liking. For you see, I fear that I am Roger Greenberg. Maybe fear isn’t the right (or fair) word to describe my condition.

I just know that when I’m watching it all unfold, I’m a little uneasy. Take the birthday dinner scene, one where Stiller’s Greenberg flips out over a change in plans like a savant:

I’ve been Roger in too many instances in my life to date. I’ve been the grown man who behaves like an insolent child when things don’t go his way. At the time it always feels justified, but any distance of time on the situation and I’m almost always left with a crushing regret and the task of dishing out humbled apologies to the unfortunate (and in many cases undeserving) wounded as I gaze at the floor.

I identify with Greenberg and I’m not entirely comfortable with that. The idea of this almost-middle aged man floating through his existence, holding onto the pathetic dream of getting the band back together resonates with me and breaks my heart in equal measure. Roger Greenberg’s level of self-involvement and lack of self-awareness is something that I see in myself on an all too frequent basis and to see it rendered on the screen without any filters is somehow confronting and beautiful at the same time.

Greenberg struggles to connect with other people but develops a strong bond with his brother’s dog, a German Shepherd named Mahler. Mahler is struck with an autoimmune disease while the family is vacationing in Vietnam and Roger’s ability to be there for the beloved pet is put to the test. A scene at the vet while Roger waits for Mahler to be seen really highlights his empathy towards the animal and his lack thereof for his fellow man.

Again, I’m not such a big fan of humans but feel a strong bond with animals, particularly dogs. The way in which Roger gets so consumed by building a quality dog house for Mahler also shows this devotion.

Towards the end of the film there is a party scene, one in which the generally introverted Roger comes out of his shell thanks to some pharmaceuticals of dubious legality. Call it better living through chemistry. Here he is holding court with some younger, impressionable minds:

So there you have it. I’m Roger Greenberg. I’m not a carpenter, I don’t live in New York, I have a family and I never had a band in the first place. But in many more ways that I’d like to admit, I am him. And maybe that’s okay for now.

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