Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
"Black Sheep" (written by Metric, performed by Brie Larson)
When movies feature fictional bands that are supposed to rock, they usually suck. In fact, they tend to suck so much that their (equally fictional) fans' devotion is hard, if not impossible, to believe. The made-up bands in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, on the other hand, have a secret weapon: They're either real bands performing under false names (e.g., Crash And The Boys = Broken Social Scene), or their music was written by honest-to-God musicians with tons of actual fans. Beck wrote the songs played by Scott Pilgrim's band, Sex Bob-Omb, including the endearing Iggy Pop rip-off "Garbage Truck"; and Canadian pop powerhouse Metric wrote "Black Sheep," an unreleased track that Brie Larson -- as Envy Adams, the singer for fictional band The Clash At Demonhead -- nails to the wall. Whether or not you're a Metric fan, it's hard to deny the craftsmanship and outright catchiness of the song, and suddenly the throngs of worshipful fans make sense.
"Gimme Sympathy" (Metric)
This is Metric performing as themselves, from their 2009 album Fantasies, which got the band plenty of U.S. airplay. "Help, I'm Alive" was the lead single, but this infectious follow-up stands up better to repeated listening. The lyrics playfully name-check the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the band's irresistibly polished sound, not unlike that of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, makes this a perfect summer driving song.
"My Love" (The Bird And The Bee)
Foot stomps, hand claps, and then singer Inara George's deceptively sweet voice, which usually has a sardonic hidden agenda. But not this time: "Hey, boy, won't you take me out tonight / I'm not afraid of all the reasons why we shouldn't try." Right there, in the first two lines of the light, punchy chorus, you've got all the necessary ingredients for a fine romance: a date and some odds to overcome.
I didn't think much of the Shins' third album when it was released back in 2007, starting with that damn title. Wincing the Night Away? Really? As it turns out, it's got much of the charm of the band's much-praised debut and sophomore records. This song, in particular, includes nearly all of the Shins' best tricks: unpredictable melody, busy lyrics, and a subtle but persistent sense of humor that mocks songwriting clichés: "Faced with a dodo's conundrum / Ah, I felt like I could just fly / But nothing happened every time I tried." Especially great to run to!
The hype surrounding Arcade Fire's third album made it extremely unlikely that both fans and newcomers would be satisfied. While The Suburbs isn't as marvelously cohesive as Funeral or as striking, musically or lyrically, as Neon Bible, it's no slouch. "Suburban War," the record's centerpiece, powerfully conveys the nostalgia, sadness, and beauty evoked by American suburban life. Yet "Rococo," which creeps up on you, is at least as effective. Fans have identified this as Arcade Fire's grand statement against fickle music hipsters, but I'm more interested in the song's big, rolling sound, which finds yet another way to do what the band does so well: take the ordinary and build momentum until it feels apocalyptic.
Imogen Heap's 2009 album Ellipse is nowhere near as strong as her previous effort, Speak For Yourself, which includes the peerless "Hide and Seek." That said, "Aha!" is Heap at her best: fast, sly, and terrific in the chorus. The song mixes her trademark electronic sound with a slinky melodic line and an unidentifiable but massively catchy element (Middle Eastern? Eastern European?) that puts it over the top. It's a short track that doesn't waste a moment; you'll want to hit replay the second it's over.
Yes, the album's cover girl is suing the band, but what's more important is that Vampire Weekend pulled off what the Shins achieved with their second album: enough of the same to please fans, enough that's different to satisfy critics. Most of Contra sounds like pure summer fun; the band's signature wit is tucked into nooks and crannies along the way. "I Think Ur A Contra" takes a different tack, slowing things down and serving a few piercing critiques to the so-called revolutionary of the title: "You wanted good schools / And friends with pools / You're not a contra." Vampire Weekend is still playing with class and the cultural and political assumptions that accompany it; by varying their musical attack with this album closer, they've demonstrated a promising kind of growth. Plus, few songs are better to cool down with after a run.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
After two years of weekly Shabbat dinners, doing something else on a Friday night punches a hole in my heart. I think it's safe to say that I've learned from this unfortunate episode, and that my knowledge of both myself and others has increased. And while none of this stuff may end up in the essays I write for my grad-school applications, I hope it'll help make the rest of my early thirties less dramatic and more focused on self-improvement and professional accomplishment. And so it goes.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
In other breaking news, I went to D'Ambrosio today and was blown away. Best gelato I've had since I visited Italy in 2000. Best flavor I've tasted so far? Fig-caramel. God, it's heavenly. About food and movies I'm still extremely capable of geeking out, which is nice to know. Why let yourself become jaded when you can remain an excited little kid inside a grown-up body?
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Now I know something about the gray area between the extremes: I, too, can run, and while it isn't easy, it isn't the hardest thing in the world. Tonight I alternated three minutes of running with a minute of walking -- I did five sets of that, for a total of twenty minutes in motion, plus the time to walk back from where I ended up. It made me feel good. It's not rocket science -- it's exactly like they say: Exercise makes you feel good. All the mental gymnastics someone like me has to do in order to actually get himself moving, that stuff's another story. That just makes me feel tired.
Another thing they say is true: Lace up your shoes and go outside, and you're 90% of the way there. 95%, even. Before my run tonight, I attended an open house at Antioch University's graduate psych program. I'm taking prereqs for a Bastyr University M.S., but I'm not done shopping around; the idea was for the prereqs to help me figure out whether I really want to do the three-year nutrition/psych grad program they offer. Antioch doesn't seem much cheaper than Bastyr, but I like their couples and family therapy track within the M.A.
Going to the event tonight helped me to realize that taking on eating disorders, especially in teenagers, will almost certainly require training in family therapy, since it's familial patterns as much as what's happening in the teen's mind that keep the disordered behavior going. I know full well that even well-intentioned parents who have nothing but love for their child can be confused about what to do, how to respond, in the face of a strange, wasting affliction like anorexia. They may be even less aware of the signs of compulsive overeating, or they may feel unable to confront them.
The prereqs for Antioch are simpler than those for the Bastyr program: three psych classes and 100 hours of "helping" work, either professional or volunteer. I've thought about volunteering at a crisis clinic in the past, and this would give me a good reason to do it. Also, I've already taken abnormal psych for the Bastyr program, and I might be able to do the other two classes online, making it easy to work while preparing for the master's at Antioch.
I ran into an old friend-of-a-friend at the open house, and she advised me against the MSW at UW, saying it doesn't provide enough clinical training. I was going to look into that program, partly because it's a good deal cheaper than either Bastyr or Antioch, and because another friend who's a therapist-in-training suggested I do so. In any case, the open house was exciting; even hearing about the Psy.D. program, which I'm unlikely to pursue, got my mind working.
Taking one day at a time has been a little harder than usual for me lately, as I try to incorporate exercise into my life, keep up with classes, do well in job interviews, and stay involved with Kibbutz matters while also keeping up my non-Kibbutz social life. Even without a day job, it's quite a balancing act, and I guess I needed to offload a few of my thoughts tonight. I hope to keep taking solo runs, even if I don't follow the instructor's "homework" schedule. Not giving up, in everything I try, is more important than doing things a particular way. That's one lesson running has taught me already. I bet it applies to my education and career planning, too.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
I don't care if it's real or a work of fiction; the e-mail thread currently circulating on Facebook, in which a designer mercilessly mocks a lowly admin, is one of the funniest things I've read all year. I literally laughed until I cried. I hope even cat lovers can appreciate its greatness.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A) In some cases, the Obie reunion just came at a really good time - if it had been last year, I could have been your Fat Buddy (grad school sedentariness in a place where we needed a car for the 1st time, depressed job hunting, celebratory job-acquisition feasts, etc.), but it happened to be this year, when I've lost 40lbs.As you might imagine, I particularly like point B.
B) You can do anything you actually, really want to, whether you hate change or not. It's got nothing to do with it. Change you start yourself isn't the same as change forced on you.
C) I totally wimped out of Couch to 5k - god, I hate running. But I like lifting weights! :)
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
FA: I used to write stories and stuff when I was in my room. I constantly think about this time. This makes me so sad in a certain way. I don’t know why I always reference this moment. I can remember sitting at my desk in my room, up at my mom’s house. And I remember my mom calling me for dinner over and over and over again, and me saying, “Wait, wait, wait,” because I was writing a story. I made up a story, and I was writing this twenty-page story. It was great, and I was finishing it up and I wasn’t going to leave until I was finished because I was really enjoying writing the story. I always remember that: I wasn’t going to go and eat dinner because I was finishing writing a story.Naturally, when I read that interview, it resonated deeply with me. It's not always clear how we go from creative dervishes to people who can't be bothered to start a story, but it's worth thinking about. Not so we can beat ourselves up, but so we can try to reclaim even a portion of what we had: that eagerness to make something new, to experiment, to play. And now, without further ado, the hippo cycle:
SFJ: Why is that sad?
FA: Because I wouldn’t do that now. Because I wouldn’t even start a story, let alone not go to dinner because I was finishing it.
SFJ: I think you’re being a little hard on yourself.
FA: That’s my job. Jesus.
An Ode to Hippos Everywhere
The hippo's a majestic beast
In ev'ry shape and way,
Yet still there seems some ignorance
About its life and play.
The hippo's gray (we all know that),
And rather large and round.
Still, some of us (I won't name names)
Don't know where he is found.
The hippomus mammalius lives not in your backyard.
He dwells in rivers, swamps, and lakes,
And life is rather hard
For something so filled up with lard.
Indeed, proceed, hunt hippos!
(With camaras, not guns)
Don't let a hippo flatten you, however:
They weigh tons!
To conclude my lesson to
You readers mid-sized, large, and small,
I'll admit I don't know much
about the hippo-beast at all!
There once lived a hippo from Dover,
Whose lifestyle seemed quite incomplete.
Legend says he aspired
To opera, was fired,
And ended up out on the street.
There once lived a hippo from Texas,
Who chased endlessly after her tail.
After years of hard work,
With a sigh and a smirk,
She succeeded, and then posted bail.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Then I went to New York, where I began reading Frank Bruni's excellent memoir, Born Round. In it, the former New York Times food critic talks about his struggles with bulimia and compulsive overeating. I felt like I was reading my own story. In New York, I was walking a lot every day, much more than I do in Seattle; the same had been true in Oberlin. In both places, I had no other affordable transportation option. I huffed and puffed at times, but I survived. At the same time, I managed to eat more moderately than I had in many, many months.
The result: I lost weight. Even so, by the time I got to Virginia for an old friend's wedding, I once again felt fat and unattractive. It probably didn't help that Richmond was even muggier than Ohio and New York, and that the temperature was around 95 degrees. Also, weddings are a merciless indicator of how I'm feeling about my romantic prospects; in this case, I felt suddenly as though I'd be single forever unless I found a way to sustain my experiment in moderate eating. Being thin isn't the key to attracting a mate, but reining in self-destructive overeating would do wonders for my self-esteem (I know from past experience). In fact, I think getting a handle on my eating habits, and finding a way to exercise, would improve all areas of my life. Nothing can substitute for hard-won confidence.
I managed about five days of moderate eating after returning to Seattle, and then Shabbat dinner at the Kibbutz knocked me for a loop. (I wrote about this phenomenon recently for Jew-ish.com.) Carbs and sugar may not be the devil, but to someone looking to kick binge eating, they're diabolical enough. William Leith, in his food-addiction memoir, The Hungry Years, points out that carbs are many people's binge food of choice. Avoiding them entirely may not be practical or necessary, but cutting down, especially during communal feasts, is vital.
Focusing on fruits, vegetables, and protein has helped me feel healthier during the past couple weeks, and falling off the low-carb wagon last night was, well, instructive. I'm currently reading a book called 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, and it helpfully addresses the black-and-white thinking that can doom a moderate eating regimen. People trying to change their eating habits make mistakes. There's almost always something to learn from them, provided you're able to spend a few moments not emotionally beating yourself to a bloody pulp.
As Bruni points out in his book, one screw-up can lead to the following logic: "Well, I messed up; might as well get it all out of my system with a nice, long binge! Then I can start my diet again in the morning." When this becomes a daily pattern, any hope of actually returning to moderate eating begins to fade. As I told my mother in Virginia, what I have trouble holding onto is that essential thing, hope, the intangible quantity that keeps people doing and trying, day in and day out. Wanting to give up? It happens. Actually giving up? A bad idea. In that spirit, I've enrolled in a "Couch to 5K" running class that takes the out-of-shape and gets them ready to run a 5K without stopping. The process takes six weeks. My ex-girlfriend Kelly is taking the class, and she looks and feels great.
I'm not much keener on running than on any other kind of vigorous exercise, but the gradualness of the Couch to 5K program appeals to me, as does the fact that it caters to people who, like me, aren't very fit. Also, the group runs will probably make it easier for me to handle the solo ones (the class involves homework). I thought about trying the program earlier this year, but going it completely alone, without a coach or fellow runners, was just too daunting. That's the thing about change: It's harder in isolation.
Dane likes to remind me that I hate change, and I've recently started correcting her more fervently. I don't hate change as much as I hate feeling worthless and ugly and empty. I just hate not knowing what to do to achieve the kind of change I want. I hate not knowing where to put my energy. And I hate being depressed, because it undercuts the part of me that loves change, that craves it, that desperately needs it to survive. When people learn how to change while being gentle with themselves, they love it. That's all I want, and I don't think it's an unreasonable goal.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The show had one good season, its first. It was very, very good — as good as anything on television at the time — but none of the seasons since have approached that level, and the current sixth season, rushed, muddled and dull, has been the weakest.I don't agree that only the first season was good, but it's true that the last has been awful. Lost is the kind of network show that's just edgy enough to make you feel okay about watching it, but conventional enough to become, ultimately, a soothing addiction. That's what network series are about, by and large: addicting you and keeping you hooked. Shows like Firefly and Freaks and Geeks weren't designed to drive viewers away, but they eschewed enough creaky TV tropes to actually make you think, feel, etc. beyond the usual network level. Hence: canceled.
I'm not cynical about all television, but networks make themselves very hard to like. Lost is like an airport paperback: entertaining, but without a soul -- by design. The show was mostly about plot, except when it paused, briefly, to be about character. As Hale mentions, only a few of the island's denizens truly managed to distinguish themselves:
(With a few exceptions, notably Terry O'Quinn, as Locke, and Henry Ian Cusick, as Desmond, the performances have been undistinguished since the first season, which may have as much to do with the conception of the characters as with the actors themselves.)I did enjoy Michael Emerson as Ben and Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet, and I think Hale is remiss to leave them out. However, there's little question in my mind that Lost is -- again, by design -- much ado about almost nothing. I doubt the show's creators knew where they wanted it to go when they crafted that remarkable first season. That's relevant, despite what Hale says, because their lack of overarching vision is what led to the disaster of a season we diehards are suffering through now. Hale hits exactly the right note at the end of his article:
The mood among many of the show’s followers as they confront Sunday’s finale seems to be a mixture of regret and relief. Whatever happens to Jack and Kate and Sawyer on Sunday night, we’re getting off the island.As Sawyer might say, it's about time we all kiss that damn rock goodbye.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Needless to say, I'm honored. It's not every day a dedicated citizen journalist gets his name in lights. (I'm also thrilled, of course, to be mentioned in the same report as a blogger named Chris "Chugs" Taylor.) Hopefully I can show my appreciation by coming back to this blog, which I've been neglecting of late, mostly due to the demands of full-time work. Friends have noticed my absence and encouraged me to get back on the horse, and I appreciate that.
However, within a day, some bloggers and mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post did some investigating and determined that the BBC report was misleading. In reality, the Mattel company, which has international rights to the game but not the rights in the U.S., plans on releasing a new version called Scrabble Trickster, which will allow proper nouns. The original game will remain untouched.
Some bloggers updated their blogs accordingly.
"Reliable sources have informed me that the British version of Scrabble that permits proper nouns is, in fact, a gimmicky one-off rather than some kind of new world order," wrote Neal Schindler at Red Blue Green just hours after the initial news report surfaced. "The American version, owned by Hasbro, still bans proper nouns, as well it should. I feel better."
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
It's possible that opening my heart in a piece of writing that the whole world can theoretically see isn't the wisest move. But I think there are some advantages to our tell-all Internet culture; one is that if the majority of people give TMI, it's no longer such a faux pas. I doubt anybody will decide not to hire me because they Googled my name and found me waxing philosophic about my Lexapro use or disordered eating.
It's certainly possible, but I think the positive aspects of putting it out there outweigh the negative ones. It's not like there's anything online that truly impugns my character. Talking about struggle, making it public, means it's no longer a secret. It also suggests a readiness to deal with things directly, to come out of isolation and embarrassment and work with myself as I am, not as I wish I was. That's why I chose my friend Michelle's recent picture of me as a Facebook profile photo:
My decision to take off my glasses makes this a slightly strange portrait, but what I focused on when I first saw it was its unsparing nature. It's easy to see my weight here: It's in my face, my cheeks, my chin. This is how I actually look, and while I'm not doing cartwheels about it, I'm trying to view this image with clear eyes and a peaceful mind. This is what I'm working with, and it's hardly perfect, but it's not a disaster, either. It's a pretty decent place to start.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Did anything capture the decade's zeitgeist better than this beautiful, intelligent show? Doubtful. It still feels as fresh, funny, and insightful as it did in 1994, when I was around Angela's age and everything seemed new and scary and exciting. Thank heavens for Hulu.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
You might want to try fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements instead of (or in addition to) meds. A Harvard study found that omega-3 fatty acids help with bipolar disorder and depression. I have used it for about ten years with no need for antidepressants or other meds to regulate my moods. And, whether or not it helps with moods, it's good for your heart and HDL. Good luck.Good advice. Someone recommended St. John's wort before I started on Lexapro, but I've heard mixed things about it. Re: fish oil, I'm vegetarian, but flaxseed would work. I could even eat it on popcorn. Thanks, Julia!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Hans Petersen was a ball of energy, a genuinely happy person, and a doer of good. That he died while installing solar panels on a roof reflects his commitment to improving the world.
I last saw Hans in 2006, when I was having a yard sale prior to my move to New York. He came by, chatted for a while, and advised me on a dilemma I was facing: whether or not to try antidepressants. Even when discussing such a potentially sensitive topic, Hans was upbeat, and his words stayed with me. He was one of a small group of people who actively encouraged me to take steps to improve my mental health, and for that I'll always be grateful.
I knew him in college as a dedicated communitarian, a lover of fun, and someone who cherished his friends and appreciated people in general. I'll miss his sunny outlook and his great sense of humor. You left us too early, Hans, and it's clear that you're already widely missed.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Lexapro is ridiculously expensive at roughly $100 per monthly supply, but I'm reluctant to mess with other meds when this one has worked, on the whole, so well. I also know that my weight gain is almost certainly due to a variety of factors -- Kibbutz food, waves of mild depression that elude the drug, etc. -- so I'd be more likely to drop meds in general than to go searching for a "better" one. It probably doesn't get a whole lot better than this.
Scrabble is, in this writer's opinion, one of the world's perfect games, yet Mattel insists on tinkering. I feel myself moving into cranky-old-man territory on issues like these, but I can't help it: When I was a boy, this kind of tomfoolery would be unthinkable. Capitulating to whiners who think the game is too hard, or too boring, isn't very classy, Mattel. Shame on you.
Update, 5:47 p.m.: Reliable sources have informed me that the British version of Scrabble that permits proper nouns is, in fact, a gimmicky one-off rather than some kind of new world order. The American version, owned by Hasbro, still bans proper nouns, as well it should. I feel better.
It's easy to rag on Detroit, but my good friend Rachel Lutz refuses to do so, as a great Q&A in the city's LGBT newspaper, Between the Lines (which I used to write for), reports. I should add that Rachel's knowledge of Detroit history is formidable, and she gives a fantastic tour that would make anyone see the place in a very different light.
I've been getting an unusual number of page views lately, and I owe it all to the feline version of Exodus. When you Google LOLcat Passover, my post from last Pesach is the top hit. Thanks, Talmudic LOLcats, for bringing this humble blog an unexpected wave of attention.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
"Yep," I said. "Lexapro."
"I figured," he said. "That's no normal weight gain."
In the past I might have been upset, but he's right: I've gained a lot of weight since I went on Lexapro in October of 2008. Then again, my weight has gone up and down pretty dramatically throughout my life, and living at the Kibbutz exposes me to a lot of good food, and a lot of communal meals, where the social aspect of eating often gets the better of my willpower. Yet I do think that the antidepressant has something to do with my ascent to 225 pounds, possibly my highest weight to date.
While some Lexapro users attribute their weight gain to the drug's biochemical effects, I believe that, at least in my case, its psychological impact is just as significant. In the past, when I put on weight, I felt bad about it. I would eventually reach a point where I started feeling fat and unattractive, but I'd continue eating too much and not getting enough exercise until I finally snapped. Then I'd begin combating my overweight with a combination of exercise and self-deprivation, a tactic I learned as a teenager with anorexia. My weight would drop, and I'd feel better about my body on a superficial level, but I'd remain extremely afraid of relapse -- i.e., gaining the weight back. Since depriving oneself isn't a sustainable long-term strategy, I'd suffer the sad fate of many a yo-yo dieter: I'd end up even heavier than I started.
Even though unemployment is hard and I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to attend Bastyr (for nutrition and health psychology, of all things!) in 2011, I'm thinking about going off Lexapro on a trial basis, to see how I feel without it. I'm unlikely to start losing weight simply because I drop the drug, yet I can't help but be curious about what would happen. Not freaking out about being overweight is a double-edged sword. It opens up the possibility of more fully accepting my body, flaws and all, which is something I'm eager and determined to do. On the other hand, overweight isn't healthy in the long run, and being too okay with it -- indifference isn't the same as acceptance, after all -- might not be such a good thing. I'll consult my therapist about it and do some soul-searching, but I imagine that if I go without the meds for a while and I feel the weight of the world return, I can go back on them.
I'm pretty pleased, all in all, that I've been able to use an antidepressant without taking an absolutist view of a complicated issue: the question of whether the positive effects of SSRIs outweigh their downsides. In my 18 months of use, I've decided that they help, but they alone are obviously not enough. And no, they don't steal your soul or make you an unwitting slave to the Man. If anything, people who aren't completely demoralized are more likely to stand up for what's right and fight against what's wrong. There are few simple choices in this world, and to inhibit serotonin reuptake or not to isn't one of them.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
The new Ben Stiller movie, written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding), is almost certain to end up on my list of 2010's best films, just as Baumbach's two previous efforts did in their respective years. Here are several of the many reasons I adored it:
1) Ben Stiller. In Greenberg, Stiller finally takes on a role worthy of his dramatic acting talent after far too many years of doing broad comedy. Nothing wrong with comedy, mind you; I still laugh at Zoolander. But I also remember 1998's Permanent Midnight, in which Stiller memorably played troubled writer (and addict) Jerry Stahl, whose memoir inspired the film. Roger Greenberg is addicted to a negative worldview more than anything else, and Greenberg is both funnier and more nuanced than Stahl.
Stiller is best known these days as a prankster (see this year's Oscars, and last year's, and 2008's...) and the star of broad, slapsticky comedies (There's Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, etc.). He wears his age interestingly in Greenberg, looking not unattractive but definitely worn by time. His face has become quite angular, which fits his character's hard-edged emotional exterior to a T. Some critics have mentioned the humanity that Stiller brings to the film's unlikable protagonist, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up with an Oscar nomination. Greenberg pushes people away more easily than he draws them in, but in one moving phone call, he proves his desire to change, and to be able to treat people as they ought to be treated, and as he wishes the world had treated him.
2) Greta Gerwig. She's been one of my favorite actresses since her engaging turn in Joe Swanberg's 2007 mumblecore romantic comedy Hannah Takes the Stairs, and in Greenberg she lights up the screen like the bright star she's bound to become. She's played sweet, aimless women like Florence Marr before, but here she reaches a new peak. Florence sees the best in Stiller's misanthrope, even though it'd be more convenient if she didn't. She begins to fall in love with him, but he resists. The fact is, Greenberg secretly loves Florence's positivity and kindness, but both qualities also scare him, as does any kind of commitment. From a clinic bed, she tells him he likes her more than he thinks he does, and of course she's right.
As Louis Menand once observed, some romantic comedies -- which is what Greenberg is, in a roundabout way -- make you fall in love with only one of the two central characters. We come to like Greenberg, albeit grudgingly, but we love Florence. Gerwig uses her mumblecore training to excellent effect, finding emotional beats-within-beats in a given scene, making every hesitation count. Florence may be confused and the victim of her own dysfunctional patterns, but she's hardly stupid. Maybe she too easily forgives Greenberg's childish tantrums, but one of the film's big questions seems to be whether some people are destined to go through life without healthy relationships. For better or worse, Florence can't believe that's true, at least of Greenberg. And her faith in him, though inexplicable at times, helps him find traces of new hope. The film ends, after all, on a genuinely hopeful note.
3) The secondary casting. Rhys Ifans is superb as Greenberg's best friend, who's understandably ambivalent about the friendship; Baumbach's wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who wrote the story upon which the movie is based, is terrific as Greenberg's ex, who isn't buying his attempts at normalcy and isn't afraid to tell him so; and Chris Messina does great work in a small role as Greenberg's brother, whose conventional success conceals a mean streak that both belies his frustration with Greenberg and reveals that anger runs in the family.
4) The use of L.A. It was David Denby who commented that Los Angeles comes across in Greenberg as a pretty decent place to live -- nothing more, nothing less. It's so often depicted as a repository of airheads and soulless movie execs, or as a glittery wonderland, that it's nice to see it as a real place filled with people who aren't that different from the rest of us (except that they can't imagine getting around without a car).
5) Baumbach's smart, soulful, very funny writing. Greenberg's script is the opposite of lazy; it never rests when it can add another sharp detail. Late in the film, Greenberg picks up a small ruler in Florence's apartment and finds that it's covered with dinosaurs that move when you tilt it. I had that ruler when I was a kid, and the specificity of this prop helps us understand Florence's childlike view of the world even more precisely.
Similarly, we see Greenberg, in a low moment, pressing a crosswalk button with the end of his sleeve wrapped around his hand, so he doesn't have to touch the button directly. This also happens fairly late in the story; at this point, we already know about Greenberg's problems relating to other people, but we're only now seeing the pervasiveness of his obsessive-compulsive tendencies. This revelation not only makes sense, it softens our judgment of his sometimes atrocious behavior. At least it had that effect on me, since I, too, have OCD symptoms. Not since Scorsese's Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator, have I seen obsessive compulsion rendered so sensitively.
Baumbach may put difficult characters at the center of his films, but he never does it merely to deride or make a spectacle of them. Jeff Daniels' pretentious academic in Whale, Nicole Kidman's chilly sister-of-the-bride-to-be in Margot, and now Stiller's Greenberg -- they're all deeply troubled people, but they're also undeniably human, and their humanity is never wholly obscured. Those who find Greenberg depressing may wish to reconsider the ending, which feels so right and conveys such hope, in spite of all that's gone before, that I nearly gasped.
6) The sex scenes. They're realistically awkward and revealing of character, not just skin. Maybe the French are still best at filming sex convincingly, but American indies are catching up.
7) The dog subplot. Baumbach found the perfect way for prickly Greenberg and sweet Florence to bond throughout the film: They both love his brother's dog, Mahler. (Greenberg's brother is, indeed, the type of person who would give a German shepherd a pretentious name.) It also happens to be the perfect way to humanize Greenberg, who valiantly scolds a passel of drunk college kids who feed Mahler pizza -- a forbidden food -- after the dog gets home from the vet's. Greenberg isn't exactly one of those people who prefer animals to humans. Instead, he uses Mahler to revive his own ability to care about any living creature; the affection he develops for the dog prepares him for the possibility of loving Florence, who so richly deserves to be loved. At one point, she observes that Mahler might be a person in canine clothing, and Greenberg seems to feel the same way.
I loved this movie so much that it made my heart hurt. I was surprised, quite frankly, that it lived up to my high expectations. It may not be to everyone's taste -- that's the way it goes with Baumbach's oeuvre, apparently -- but those with whom it resonates will find themselves thoroughly rewarded.