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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.