Who's In It: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Basics: Greenberg is a guy you'll hate. And not in that semi-adorable Larry David way either. He's 40, mean-spirited, judgmental, petty, fearful, depressed, lacking empathy and rich enough to not work, choosing instead to spend his days crafting complaint letters to various businesses that don't satisfy his high standards of service. He crosses paths with his brother's personal assistant, a stumbling, unformed, directionless woman lacking the self-possession to steer clear and avoid falling in love with him. In fact, she seems to love him because, not in spite of, his laundry list of pathological personality traits. You want to drag her away from him but you can't. All you can do is laugh uncomfortably while watching them have unfun sex and be horrible for each other.
What's The Deal: Jerks you've met in real life, you don't usually get to laugh at their ugliness to their face. So this movie serves a real function. And more than that, because the film itself doesn't seem to hate these people, choosing instead to just present them as they are, it forces you to see the damaged humanity in them even if in real life you'd run screaming. Obviously there's running commentary from director Noah Baumbach--his characters are never free of context--but they don't have epiphanies, they don't learn and they don't apologize. It's kind of refreshing.
Whose Movie Is It Anyway: The poster is just Ben Stiller's head. The movie's named after his character. Yet you could make a case that it really belongs to Greta Gerwig. She was in mumblecore films like Hannah Takes the Stairs, Baghead and the amazingly '80s-like scary movie The House of The Devil. And even if you haven't seen those, all you have to do is watch her here to know that she's great at erasing herself before your eyes. She apologizes for everything, she masochistically engages in sex with a guy she can't force herself to dislike even though she should, and she makes freakishly real stressed out moans of ambivalence when she's not saying stuff like "...nobody cares if I get up in the morning." If you demand strong female characters in movies, you'll be furious with her almost immediately, but if frailty and discomfort are your entertainment, this is where to get it.
For Audiences Who: Will laugh at lines like "I'm sorry your dog has AIDS," who don't mind extremely awkward abortion humor, who like their comedy with a triple shot of despair and who don't get depressed just by watching movies about depressed people. This eliminates about 30% of the people I know. Maybe more for you. My friends are kind of weird.
Civic Pride: This won't matter much if you live in Chicago, but for fans of movies like L.A. Confidential, L.A. Story, The Player and the fascinating documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, it's always nice to see a movie shot in Los Angeles that takes advantage of sides of the city that don't often wind up on film and that doesn't swing wildly from Malibu to the San Fernando Valley like it's nothing more than a leisurely bike ride. I also appreciated the used car lot four blocks from my house that wound up a visual metaphor for bummed-out anxiety.