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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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