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For Their Consideration: Greta Gerwig in “Greenberg”

For Their Consideration: Greta Gerwig in “Greenberg” (photo)

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Throughout awards season, IFC.com will highlight Oscar dark horses that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve for their work. For the full “For Their Consideration” archive go here.

Before we meet “Greenberg”‘s title character, we meet Florence. A young woman in mismatched dress and cardigan sweater, we watch her walk a dog through the Hollywood Hills. Then she’s driving as her car stereo plays Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner.” She wants to change lanes; the car behind her won’t budge. To no one in particular, Florence speaks the first lines of the movie. “Are you gonna let me in?”

Hard to hear Florence say those words and not think about the woman playing her, twenty-seven-year old actress Greta Gerwig. As one of the key members of the so-called mumblecore movement in indie film, Gerwig has garnered small-scale attention and acclaim in films like “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” Baghead,” and “Nights and Weekends.” But attention and acclaim don’t necessarily translate to a career in the broader world of film, especially since mumblecore detractors tend to believe there’s no acting (or writing, or directing, or art) involved in those movies at all. As a fan of her work, particularly her raw performance in “Nights and Weekends,” I always thought she deserved a chance to showcase her skills on a bigger stage. But the question remained: was someone going to let her in?

Writer/director Noah Baumbach did, and Gerwig responded with one hell of a performance, one worthy of awards that she will almost certainly not receive (Oscar prognostication website InContention currently lists 43 women as contenders in the Academy Awards’ Best Supporting Actress category — including Ellen Page for “Inception” — but not Gerwig). This doesn’t surprise me. Awards tend to go to people who ACT! in capital letters and exclamation points, with fake noses and thirty extra pounds of ice cream chub. Gerwig belongs to the school of lowercase acting, the kind that is so complete and truthful that it can sometimes be hard to spot.

Florence meets Roger Greenberg, played by Ben Stiller, through his brother. She works for him as a personal assistant. The brother and his family go on a vacation; Roger, fresh from a stint in a mental hospital, flies out from New York to dog and housesit. Their proximity sparks a very unorthodox romance, unorthodox even by the standards of quirky indie romantic comedies. Gerwig’s task is not an easy one: she has to convince us that Florence would be legitimately and persistently interested in an older man with no prospects and no manners, who needs constant emotional maintenance and frequently badgers her. Making her job even more difficult, once Greenberg appears eight minutes into the film he totally dominates it, leaving very little room for Florence or screentime for Gerwig.

That imbalance, though, suits the relationship. Florence is such a pushover she’d rather beg a friend for $40 than pester her boss for the money he owes her. The bullying, overbearing Roger, in contrast, refuses to let any injustice stand, no matter how small or insignificant it may be. The ever-crusading Roger writes letters to companies whose policies upset him; he sends one to American Airlines about the quality of the buttons on the armrests. You get the feeling watching Florence she wouldn’t even complain if someone sat on her seat on an airplane while she was still in it.

Somehow Gerwig makes Florence seem vulnerable without feeling like a victim. Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s screenplay staunchly refuses to make sense of this screwy relationship or to spell out the source of the attraction, so it’s up to Gerwig’s performance to make it work. We wonder what she sees in this asshole until we watch the way she lights up when she hugs Greenberg or he agrees to spend the night at her house and we realize: these two are kindred spirits. One lost soul has found another.

Florence doesn’t share a lot of personal characteristics with Gerwig’s mumblecore characters, but Gerwig’s performance does bear the same hallmarks that made her earlier work memorable: her total lack of vanity and her uncannily naturalism. In mumblecore, those qualities were her greatest onscreen strengths and her biggest offscreen weaknesses with critics: it never looked like Gerwig was acting, therefore, she must not be. And Gerwig is completely at ease in front of the camera, whether she’s enduring an cringe-inducingly uncomfortable sex scene with Ben Stiller or drinking away her pain while singing along to Paul McCartney’s “”Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” She doesn’t have onscreen tics or crutches and she doesn’t need big speeches or breakdowns to convey big emotions. It’s all right there on her face. But just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is.

“Greenberg” is ultimately about Stiller’s character, but every time I watch it, I’m drawn to Gerwig’s, the girl carrying all these emotions that she can’t find the words to express and barely has the strength to hold back. The whole movie really is summed up in Florence’s first line. It’s about pleasure we get from watching Roger and Florence learn to let each other in.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.