I was hopeful though, he was giving a more dramatic performance, there was Rhys Ifans to back him up, Jennifer Jason Leigh was there too and she also came up with the story, and Noah Baumbach who wrote and directed The Squid and the Whale as well as a number of other slightly off-kilter stories and films.
So what did Greenberg have in store? It seemed that it could deliver quite a bit and I was eager to see Stiller in something more meaty, dramatic and less comic.
While there he connects with his brother's personal assistant and a strange relationship tries to form, however he just can't seem to let anything good happen around him, even when he reconnects with the friends and the lover that he left behind.
Greenberg is a bit of a strange film to be honest, strange not just in story but also in the characters. For a good part of the film I struggled with making any connection with any of the characters as there was little to like about them and they were extremely flimsily built on screen. This was clear by the arrival of some of the secondary characters such as those played by Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh, although the latter was a tiny role, the development of her character seemed about as much as that of the main roles for most of the film.
We never really understood about Greenberg's issues or how they came to be apart from one that's hinted at in the relationship with Ifans' character of Ivan where a couple of scenes refer back to the failed band from when they left college. It's an event and a character relationship that seems quite vital to the story of Greenberg and yet never feels as though it's been properly explored, despite it being referenced a number of times neither the characters in the film or we get a chance to examine and understand them.
It's a comment I feel comes up a lot about the film. None of the characters were explored to any depth and I never really felt I connected with them on any level, and indeed watching the character of Greenberg sigh his way through another slowly paced scene just pushed me further away from the story. His character was all over the place and very introspective, which is a difficult thing to make work with an expectant audience and no internal monologue for them to follow. When he erupts for no reason and seems to sabotage a relationship that we're not even sure had gone anywhere, it all seemed rather confused and empty, and it didn't seem to be leading us or the characters anywhere.
I also find something rather odd about Greta Gerwig and struggle with her on screen, and with her role in Greenberg I got just that. It's like a number of actors and actresses these days who seem to get praise for doing next to nothing but mumbling lines and giving a confused and scattered performance. To her defence it seems that it's her character in the film, but it's not something that draws the audience to her character. Again her character suffers from lack of development, and we know little about her. She sings, she has friends, she was at university, she's a personal assistant and has family. There, I think I've developed her about as much as the film did.
However films don't actually have to develop their characters greatly for the story to be engaging, but they need to capture the audience in some way for them to connect to something, and I just didn't feel that with Greenberg. Not until the last act when the film stopped trying to present itself with style and mood and get on with some dialogue and interaction.
The relationship between Greenberg and Ivan goes somewhere almost at the end of the film, and the thread of the unseen wife does seem to grow a little and present them with something to talk around and fight over. We also see a connection made between Greenberg and Gerwig's character of Florence, and although it's a small moment right at the end of the film it is rather touchingly portrayed.
However these are the scenes at the end of the film and they just seem to happen and come from nowhere. The appearance of Ivan at the party for the final showdown seems against the story just from a few moments ago and rather contrived, and the opening up and change of direction with the Florence relationship seems really odd.
There were some strong musical moments in the film and it did have a nice style to the filming, particularly during the indoor and darker scenes.
The iTouch stereo track was good and allowed the best of the musical track to come through.
A strong picture on the iTouch during the daytime scenes which carried through to the darker indoor and night time shots, however there were two scenes that could have been a little lighter. Viewed in a dark environment or with no reflection on the iTouch screen you could make out what was happening, but in a light room is was a little harder.
Greenberg wasn't an easy film to watch. While I looked forward to seeing Ben Stiller in a more dramatic role, this really didn't bring much to the audience. Characters who seemed pretty flat didn't really allow us to like them or find any sort of hook to connect to, and it was only in the closing scenes that I actually started feeling something for a few of the characters, but by then it was far too late.
The film, like the lead character, felt far too challenging to like, and it was a real struggle to find a connection, I didn't even feel compassion for the ailing dog, and that's usually a sure thing to affect my emotions in any film or television programme.
A nice musical track or two, some nicely shot scenes and a couple of moments at the end of the film provided the most positive aspects of Greenberg for me.