This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“Greenberg,” a W.C. Fields for our time.

“Greenberg,” a W.C. Fields for our time. (photo)

Posted by on

He called himself “The Great Man,” and — especially in the ’30s — W.C. Fields was just that. In a series of misanthropic comedies, Fields repeatedly professed his dislike of children and wives and his love of booze. There was more to him than that, of course — 1934’s “The Old Fashioned Way” is a rare tender crack in the facade, and one of his best vehicles — but that’s who he was on-screen most of the time, and audiences loved him for it.

He was, in short, an “asshole.” As is Ben Stiller’s “Greenberg,” in the charge most commonly levied against Noah Baumbach’s fantastically empathetic portrait of the misanthrope as self-defeating, self-depleting maniac. There are meaningful differences, of course: the contours of Fields’ movies always put him in the right, the lone sane voice in a wilderness of ninnies and hysterics.

This isn’t how “Greenberg” works. As in “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot At The Wedding,” Noah Baumbach isn’t inviting us to titter in approval — something that should’ve been obvious to most viewers. And yet there are complaints left and right that we’re being invited to watch someone so repugnant he isn’t worth the time of day. Which isn’t right.

03252010_greenberg.jpgThe real Fields wore himself out: his nose got bigger and redder, the DTs started kicking in, and he died of a stomach hemorrhage at age 66. “Greenberg,” it’s true, is softer: Stiller does not look like he’s been knocking back the whiskey as often as he does on-screen. Much of what he says is biliously hilarious — but almost all of it is bilious, if not outright hateful.

But there’s no indication that we’re supposed to admire this or adopt his worldview; to anyone that’s not an angry teenager, it’s perfectly obvious what’s going on here. Much of the critical response, though, proves something else entirely: the role of beloved curmudgeon simply isn’t an option anymore in America. You have to undercut it with an essentially good-natured vigor (like Vince Vaughn) or really commit to it in such a way that you go from making people uncomfortable to just shocking them into laughter (like a lot of Billy Bob Thornton’s grumpy roles). But try to empathize with the asshole (even as you acknowledge he sometimes has a point), and watch out.

[Photos: “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” Universal Home Entertainment, 1935; “Greenberg,” Focus Features, 2010]

Watch More

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

Watch More

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Watch More

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

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

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

Watch More