Gerwig is alarmingly unselfconscious as Florence Marr. She placidly endures the daily grind of au-pairing for a wealthy LA couple, pretending to have fun at a party and at the end of the night, subjecting herself to meaningless sex. Older man Roger Greenberg breaks the routine when he comes to housesit for her boss (his high-achieving brother) but the weight of this responsibility seems like too much for him. As he tells Florence, "I'm really just trying to do nothing right now." And he's just as noncommittal after throwing himself on top of her like a slurping puppy.
Their amusingly stilted dialogue punctuates frustrated emotions, but Baumbach, unlike occasional collaborator Wes Anderson, favours a realistic and even rather dour visual treatment. The skies over LA are overcast and Greenberg even makes a wry joke of it when it rains. He just cannot see the bright side of anything, including the willingness of Florence to look beyond his sulking and snapping. Things begin to get very uncomfortable when Greenberg yells at her for having no self-respect, which leaves small room for comedy relief. It's a bold move to inject the story with pathos, but Greenberg's annoying air of self-importance threatens to pervade the film.
Jennifer Jason Leigh pops up as an old flame (she hatched the story with Baumbach) to underline the tragedy of Greenberg's situation, but it's his unlikely friendship with Rhys Ifans (playing ex-bandmate Ivan) that tempers the darkening mood. Ifans doesn't overplay his part, he merely listens to Greenberg's woes with his eyes half-rolling; essentially playing the straight man to Stiller's gibbering wreck. His own relationship drama also encourages Greenberg to confront his issues and there's a steady process of self-improvement that lifts the tone later on. Even so, it's Florence who demands the most attention, ironically seeming to shrink as he grows.
The biggest problem with the story is that Florence appears doomed to make the same old mistakes. There's an ominous sense that letting Greenberg into her life is the worst thing she could do and the way the plot turns to bring them together feels overly engineered. Baumbach is too much of a cynic to go all the way for a fairytale ending, but he also cops out at the last minute. It appears that, like Greenberg, he can't commit to the outcome. Instead, the joy is in the smaller moments that chime with the real-life process of falling in love which can be clumsy and thereby funny to watch. In the end, all we know for sure is that laughter is the best medicine.
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