Greenberg won't be everyone's cup of hemlock. Yet we all know people like this -- the ones who only hear their own motors running -- and Baumbach locates and mines a rich vein of appalled comic sympathy.
Greenberg will do a lot for Stiller's reputation and Gerwig's profile, but its awkward, messy humanity and uncomfortable honesty won't necessarily do a lot for ticket-buyers more used to lighter, warmer and breezier entertainments.
This is tricky, ambiguous material, seemingly better fitted to a short literary novel than to a movie, and it could have gone wrong in a hundred ways, yet Baumbach handles it with great assurance.
Cinematographer Harris Savides captures the relentless, rather terrifying sunniness of LA without ignoring the smog. Baumbach's script and direction has brought out the best in everyone on-screen.
Stiller plays a monster, and when Gerwig goes for him, declaring that she sees his tender side, the development seems like a fond indulgence on the part of writer-director Noah Baumbach.
Stiller's portrayal is so acutely real, Baumbach's writing so cutting and specific, and the work of Gerwig so seemingly effortless that Greenberg makes you, if not happy to stick around, then at least agreeable to the idea.
As a study of stasis and of people conscious of not living the lives they had imagined for themselves, the picture offers a bracing undertow of seriousness beneath the deceptively casual, dramatically offhand surface.
What saves it, however, is Gerwig. The love story ain't credible, but her performance is, perfectly capturing a young woman who doesn't lack confidence so much as a sense of self.