Review - Film - Loose connections

1st October 2010 at 01:00

Director: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Ben Stiller, Rhys Ifans

Released on DVD on October 4

Cert: 15

Rating: 45

Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a 40-something carpenter in recovery from a mental breakdown returning to his home town of LA after 15 years.

Greenberg finds himself floundering in an environment that he should have grown out of and struggling to reconnect with old acquaintances, including former school friend Ivan (played by Rhys Ifans), who is the most likable character in this film.

Greenberg is a far cry from Stiller's usual roles. He's uninteresting, uncaring, stuck in a rut and writes endless letters of niggling complaints.

Baumbach's vision for Greenberg is bleak. He presents a less than sunny side of LA through muted and dull colours and disjointed scenes that reinforce our impression of Greenberg's alienation. Ben Stiller is an interesting choice to play Greenberg, but he rises to the challenge.

As Greenberg revisits his past, he forms an unlikely relationship with 20-something Florence (Greta Gerwig). It is out of loneliness that these two connect and find a sort of comfort in each other.

With Greenberg, there is little light relief. The film is devoid of any real emotion or comfort, and that is the point - to show the gritty, real-life experiences of someone ordinary. Yet at times, the audience feels too distant and this makes it difficult to connect with Stiller's character.

That said, this review is no letter of complaint. Greenberg is an innovative and daring film that captures the universal human experience of the search for intimacy in modern society and a sense of dissatisfaction with life. In that respect, the film is highly compelling.

Olly Brassell, 17, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire

Rating: 45

This is a gentle character-driven study of a 40-year-old man recovering from a spell in a psychiatric hospital.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) has returned to his home town of LA, where he is house-sitting for his wealthy and successful brother. While there he tries and fails to reconnect with old friends who are unaware of his mental fragility and have all either married, divorced or had kids.

Greenberg, however, is stuck in the past and carries the burdens of a man whose life has not gone in the direction he expected.

Though his friends and his old girlfriend appear uninterested in carrying on where they left off, Greenberg starts an affair with his brother's assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), who has come out of a long relationship and is drifting through life.

This seems doomed to fail from the beginning as we witness the comical and awkward bedroom fumblings of two people going through the motions. Yet despite this apparent incompatibility and Greenberg's appalling behaviour they seem compelled to be with each other.

Stiller's performance is understated and not what we have come to associate with him, though he manages to give Greenberg's tragic life a low-key comic aspect.

Rhys Ifans is also highly watchable as Greenberg's softly spoken best friend. He spends most of his time driving him around LA, either with his brother's ill dog or eventually to an abortion clinic with Florence, who has realised she is pregnant.

It is visually enjoyable, the acting impressive, and though I wouldn't describe it as laugh-out-loud funny there are some well-written comic moments.

This is not a life-affirming film, but beneath the disappointments that define Greenberg's life we are left with the suggestion of a love story, which goes a long way to dispel his cynical proclamation that "life is wasted on people".

Alex Newton, Filmclub leader, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire

Filmclub, a charity supported by Lovefilm, helps to set up after-school film clubs, where children watch and discuss a range of films, promoting learning in an informal setting. Each week members of Filmclub will review everything from new releases to cinema classics. Join at www.filmclub.orgregister


Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz

Released on DVD on October 4

Cert: 12

Rating: 45

Rian Johnson's latest film is not your typical con-man offering. It begins by showing Stephen and Bloom as children, the narrator explaining how the brothers were often shoved from home to home by foster parents.

Stephen notices Bloom gazing at a girl and creates a story in which the brothers can make money. This becomes their first con. But their plot is uncovered and they are made to give the money back to the local children.

The film goes on to show them 25 years later. They are still in the conning business, and this time you see how clever Stephen is and how much detail is used in his cons.

This film goes behind the scenes of the conning world and shows the emotional side to the job. Bloom no longer wants to con people: he says he wants to lead an "unwritten life", but Stephen convinces him to do just this last job.

The film cleverly works your emotions of happiness, laughter, sadness and frustration. The music is another high point. I could have sat and listened to it with my eyes closed, but not while the film was on because it was just too gripping to look away.

Georgina Phillipson, 13, Wanstead High School, east London

Director: Oliver Stone


Released on DVD on October 4

Cert: 15

Rating: 45

Documentaries about Latin American politics rarely jump out at me, but the great thing about Filmclub is that it gives pupils the opportunity to watch films that we wouldn't normally see.

This week's unknown was South of the Border, an eye-opening documentary about many of South America's leaders and the way they are treated by the US media and powers that be. Director, narrator and interviewer Oliver Stone gives us his personal but well-informed account of the relationship between the American continents.

The opening of the film humiliates Fox News in a way that has you laughing and cringing, but immediately engages you in what is obviously set up to be, in parts, an attack on the US media. However, the main "character" in this "story" is the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and we are given an insight into his humble background and turbulent political career.

Many of the other South American presidents Stone interviews have similarly inspirational stories, but the recurring theme throughout the documentary is US interference and media distortion. It made me question what I read ... particularly film reviews.

Jonathan Gibson, 17, Wanstead High School, east London.

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