Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2010. Scott Rudin Productions, Twins Financing. Story by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Noah Baumbach, Screenplay by Noah Baumbach. Cinematography by Harris Savides. Produced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Rudin. Music by James Murphy. Production Design by Ford Wheeler. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Tim Streeto. Independent Spirit Awards 2010.
Ben Stiller is released from the hospital after a nervous breakdown and is invited by his brother (Chris Messina) to look after his California house while he and his wife (Susan Traylor) go to Vietnam on business. Stiller has hardly arrived before he starts unleashing his petty frustrations on the world, writing angry letters to corporations and engaging Messina’s assistant (Greta Gerwig) in conversations about his feelings of hopelessness before beginning a tentative affair with her. He also reconnects with an old girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who may have been a key motivating factor in his sorrows. Stiller spends the film vacillating between hope and despair as director Noah Baumbach tries his best to treat the subject with delicacy and intelligence but fails to really come up with anything memorably dramatic. Despite good dialogue and a plot that moves with such free ease that its mechanisms can hardly be detected, this film suffers from a blandness unlike the soft beauty at the centre of the hardness in Baumbach’s The Squid And The Whale, or the dramatic hard edges of Margot At The Wedding. Much of it has to do with the central performance: Baumbach is going for complex humanity to offset the more difficult aspects of the character, but Stiller has no depth or layers, his ignorant resolve and showy techniques are better suited to silly special-effects movies. Gerwig and her natural beauty fare somewhat better, but she too is lost in a fog of indecisiveness, a poignant indication of this film’s exploration of the small separation between the sane and the not-so “normal”, and eventually her indulgent attitude towards her own vagueness becomes tiresome.