Noah Baumbach's movie takes another look at personal relationships, exposing the tension and sadness underneath the surface of character's feelings. It's an anti-romcom if you will, the laughter catching at the back of your throat, and is a rewarding effort overall but one you wish you could like more.
What will put you off? Ben Stiller. Without doubt, he gives his best ever performance here as the distinctly dislikeable Roger Greenberg, a 40-year-old carpenter who's recently had a nervous breakdown. A New Yorker, he comes over to LA to house-sit for his brother's family who are on holiday, and ends up having a fling with the family's 26-year-old personal assistant Florence (Gerwig). She's a slightly dippy, vulnerable girl with troubles of her own and their quasi- relationship is hardly easy going, chiefly due to Greenberg's resolutely rude and intolerant behaviour. In his mid 20s he was a member of a band that were about to sign a record deal, but he balked at the contract and walked out on his bandmates. His co-writer Ivan (Ifans) thereby gave up on his dreams of rock stardom and is working in IT, a morose father separated from his wife. He still tries to be pals with the temperamental Greenberg, driving him to various places, but their friendship is strained.
Stiller is superb at delineating the character's neuroses and is very brave in never trying to elicit sympathy or be amiable. The scene in the restaurant where he erupts and tells Ifans to "sit on my dick", angry that a group of waiters are singing Happy Birthday to him, is very funny. Gerwig, who resembles Kate Winslet at times, is very believable as his confused "girlfriend", masking her own worries by trying to help him. She's a perfect foil for his idiosyncracies. Ifans is superb as Ivan, wonderfully subtle in communicating his unhappy disatisfaction with his life, his silent longing to be back with his wife and child plain to see. But the main flaw is that you cannot believe that they would want to spend time with Greenberg. He's so off putting in many respects – a manic depressive who doesn't listen, an OCD sufferer who cares little for people – that it's impossible to warm to him. And consequently one cannot warm to the movie either. But it nevertheless gets under your skin and is supremely well observed and well acted. Disagreeable perhaps but also admirable.