Post date: May 6, 2010 5:07:07 PM

Ben Stiller, often the man-child in his featured roles, has taken that character trope to new dramatic heights in Noah Baumbach's Greenberg.

Awkward conversations have become a staple in independent cinema, and this film is no exception. In moments of conflict or indecision, the space separating the title character and his much-younger love interest is palpable. You can feel the differences in age and personality driving them apart -- but also the strange attraction that keeps bringing them back together.

Greenberg tells the story of Roger, a 40-year-old screwup who, until recently, was a mental ward patient. In his college days, his rock band scored a record deal -- which he rejected out of principle, alienating his bandmakes and best friends. Since then, he's picked up carpentry odd jobs, and . . . well, that's about it, other than drinking, moping, and writing nasty letters to Starbucks, taxi companies, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, and so on. He aspires to nothing. Deliberately.

But now, with an invitation to look after his brother's home and German Shepherd in LA, his life takes a new turn. He meets Florence (Greta Gerwig), the 25-year-old family assistant. We don't know the horrors of her past, but we can guess she must be some kind of masochist to go to bed with Roger, whose charm is invisible to all but her.

It's an odd kind of relationship, but an interesting one. She can't match his antagonistic explosions with wrath of her own, and Roger seems to know this. But she does have her own way of pushing him over the edge. Despite knowing each other for only a few weeks, they know how to push each other's buttons. As Florence says, "hurt people hurt people," and yet her innate understanding of his vulnerability transcends his petty gripes.

Films like this are important in the era of dreamy, teenage vampires invading the silver screen. They remind us that love is not magical. In fact, it's often ugly and manipulative . . . but sometimes, love can be worth it all the same. And having a dark sense of humor definitely helps.

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