Dear Noah Baumbach,
My original plan was to write a standard review of your new movie Greenberg responding to some of the other things I’d read about it. But I can’t really be critical and objective about your movies. It’s not so much that I love them so hard; it’s more like I relate to them so hard. It’s not so much that I find myself in situations like Greenberg and Florence’s (though being in a similar age and situation except not single, I found Florence very easy to identify with). When I walked out of Greenberg, I felt suddenly self-conscious, imagining what my life would look like if it were a movie. Walking down the street, picturing how the camera would frame me. Part of Granville Street was closed so a TV show could film some kind of police car thing. It was very cinematic. Hearing movie speech rhythms in the way my boyfriend and I bantered. We were weirdly on that night.
I’m not always sure how to deal with the way I relate to your movies. Lines like “We call each other ‘man,’ but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people” are clearly inviting me to judge Greenberg, and maybe people who don’t do stuff like this will judge Greenberg, but don’t most people do stuff like this? I sure do; I’ll start saying stuff “ironically” and then before long it’s just part of my vocabulary. That’s the thing about Greenberg — the details and the throwaways are really the bits that convince me such a cartoonishly awful person lives in my world (that, and the fact that we have all lived with facets of his cartoonish awfulness). Details like the recycled POM-brand iced tea glass Greenberg’s drinking out of when he writes his letters: they don’t even sell POM tea in those glasses anymore, and haven’t for a while, so I’m pretty sure some art director had to find that and choose it for the scene. I have one of those at my house! Also, Florence’s holographic dinosaur ruler. I had that exact ruler! It’s a cutesy way of showing that she still lives like a kid (and I don’t still have my dino ruler) but that moment of recognition really did work. We all know movies are captured images of things that really happened — though CGI means that that direct relationship is always in doubt now — but the things they capture so often feel fake, removed from our everyday life.
I feel uncomfortable about the precise way I like your movies, because I like them because they feel real. I know this is why a lot of people like a lot of stuff, but I, being a Greenbergian asshole, feel like that’s a really naive way to like things. I tend to pride myself on liking things that are self-consciously artificial, either in the art film way or in the genre way. “Realism” is a totally bourgeois notion, right? I don’t know, I think people like having things they relate to in movies? But I’m still pretty sure it’s somehow like I’m totally “buying into” an emotional experience. My laughs are coming from a place of (occasionally uncomfortable) recognition, which I totally think was your intention; but it was still a place that I paid money to be in, and a place that’s just as “artificial” as the self-conscious camp that I love.
I realize the device of writing a letter about these feelings to you, which is similar to the way Greenberg wrote letters to Starbucks and Hollywood Pet Taxi, is a trite literary device.
But your movies make me feel trite.