Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg”: The Most Realistic LA Movie Yet

April 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

Watching “Greenberg” was a heady experience in many ways. While I spent most of the film cringing at the behavior of the title character (played brilliantly by Ben Stiller) and fretting about the fates of the hapless chore-whore Florence (Greta Gerwig) and her canine charge, Mahler, I also reveled in the film’s depiction of Los Angeles. For what Baumbach (and his co-writer, Jennifer Jason Leigh) showed was not the shiny, superficial city of “LA Story” and a thousand other movies but the real Los Angeles–older, quieter and definitely further east.

Much of the action takes place in Hollywood. The 1920’s Mediterranean belonging to Roger Greenberg’s brother is located near Runyon Canyon Park, where Florence and Greenberg exercise Mahler. The house, though large and equipped with a port cochere and pool, is not particularly luxurious. Instead of the slick interiors of every LA film from “The Party” to “The Holiday”–and in fact, every Nancy Meyers film, each of which seems to be set in the same glossy movie version of LA regardless of the supposed location–the Greenberg house has an attractively shabby, lived-in air. Though Greeberg’s brother and sister-in-law are wealthy enough to take off with their kids for an extended trip to Vietnam, their house is untouched by an interior designer. Hardwood floors with a few rugs, pottery and collections of travel souvenirs keep company with books, old prints and paintings. There is a stunning paucity of fancy electronic equipment.  And Mahler, the German Shepherd, is nearly always present–just as dogs are in real life.

Florence invites Greenberg to hear her sing at the Silverlake Lounge, a small, bare-bones club on Sunset. Greenberg and his former bandmate,  Ivan (Rhys Ifans), have dinner at Musso and Frank’s, a 1919 Hollywood institution whose decor and menu appear not to have changed since the 1950’s. Greenberg, who no longer drives, huffs up the hill toward Franklin from the Ralph’s on Sunset, groceries in hand. And when he and Ivan go to a party at another former bandmate’s contemporary hillside house a little further east, Greenberg makes the greatest observation in recent film: “Out here all the men dress like children and the children dress like superheroes.”

As a neighbor of mine put it, “it’s our LA.”

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