Noah Baumbach, "Greenberg" and Flawed Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Diane Kruger and Quentin Tarantino at The 82nd Annual Academy Awards on 7th March 2010.

What Tarantino Owes to 'Greenberg':

Two years later “Pulp Fiction” came out and changed everything and I got a strange phone call -- from the editor at the Times. Turns out she was retiring -- she explained that, after falling on her sword for Quentin, when the movie bombed there were rumblings they wanted to let her go. She refused -- until “Pulp” hit. Now, she felt, she could leave with her head held high.

I asked her one question: Given the heat she’d taken to get the story published (launching Quentin’s career), why?

She told me she had a son in Hollywood who’d been working on his first movie for Trimark (another defunct movie company, like LIVE) and he had assured her (not me) that Quentin was the real deal.
His name was Noah Baumbach. And you can look it up".

Episode 8: Zach sits down with Ben Stiller, star of the 'Meet the Fockers' series as well as the new movie, Greenberg.

Ben Stiller stars in "Greenberg" (2010).

Roger, a failed musician recently released from a psychiatric hospital and still holding on to an image of himself as a young rebel while his peers have grown up and settled down, is so self-involved that his wallowing plays as aggression. Florence, searching for an honest connection but stuck in a self-destructive pattern of "doing things just because they feel good", is drawn to what seems like vulnerability in Greenberg, hooked by his wild vacillation between neediness and cruel disinterest. "Hurt people hurt people", she tells him, wryly, resigned to this vicious cycle.
Ben Stiller and Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Greenberg".
Jennifer Jason Leigh and husband Noah Baumbach.

Baumbach says elements of Greenberg "kept popping up" in his writing, but a long gap between the wrap of his last film, Margot at the Wedding, and its fall 2007 release gave Baumbach time to flesh out a script. "I wasn't even sure who this guy was, but I knew he was so actively his own worst enemy. I see this in myself and I see it with a lot of people, but with Greenberg it's much more overt."
Greta Gerwig plays Florence Marr in "Greenberg".

The Florence character has tones of what's come to be known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) — a young, eccentrically costumed sprite who saves a lovable loser from himself. Think Natalie Portman in Garden State, or Zooey Deschanel in anything. But while most modern indies use their MPDG as a catalyst for fairy tale–perfect romance, Greenberg offers up how such a character would function in real life.

"Those characters are always presented as saviors, but the reality is, they're getting some neurotic, perverse fulfillment, or lack of fulfillment, by getting involved with this asshole", Baumbach notes. And for a man caught in a real-life Florence's web, "those women are generally much more interesting because they're depressed and fucked up."
Greenberg gives Gerwig, the leading ingénue of recent American no-budget cinema, her inaugural role in a high-profile release. Baumbach first saw the actress starring in Hannah Takes the Stairs, Joe Swanberg's introspective, entirely improvised romantic roundelay, the linchpin of the micro-indie "mumblecore" movement. Though Baumbach's films often have a conversational realism that resembles improv, they're actually tightly scripted, and the filmmaker wondered whether Gerwig could work under such constraints.
Greta Gerwig plays Tamera in "Une aventure New-Yorkaise" directed by Olivier Lécot.

"Clearly she had talent, but they're all making these lines up, and I didn't know how much of that was her doing herself. Could she do this with scripted stuff?" An audition in Baumbach and Leigh's New York apartment confirmed that she could. "She'd memorized the whole thing."
Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig in "Greenberg".

Gerwig's performance is short on actorly flourishes, and with her imperfect skin and unsculpted physique, her appearance on-screen is unlike that of the standard starlet. It was Baumbach's intention to present Florence as a realistically awkward young woman, somewhat out of place in the capital of superficiality, but perhaps he and his actress did too good a job. The Variety review published after Greenberg's Berlin Film Festival premiere described Gerwig as "a big young woman who's attractive enough," and expressed skepticism as to whether or not Gerwig was acting at all".

"As for women, Fowles says the first step in confronting the MPDG is realizing, like all the scary creatures hiding under your bed, that she doesn’t exist.

“As long as you understand that this is entertainment, it’s OK to watch these movies, step back and think, ‘Why do we need these characters?’ I have no problem with escapism. I just have a problem with people watching these films and believing that the stereotypes are real.”
Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in "Garden State" (2004).

"The harsh truth of indie-mixtape cinema like Garden State is that terrified men and amazing girls are meant for each other. Everyone wants to be able to give and receive love, no matter how unready or undeserving they think they might be — and they want to do it minutes to boarding a flight, your name called over the airline speaker as your previously clueless boyfriend tells all those flying to Wichita that he’s made the “biggest mistake of his life.” (See Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming for a nice reversal of this fantasy — the man too traumatized to bring his passport.)"

Kirsten Dunst as Claire Colburn in "Elizabethtown" (2005).

1. Elizabethtown (Kirsten Dunst)
Ah, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, that sentient ray of sunshine sent from heaven to warm the heart and readjust the attitude of even the broodiest, most uptight male protagonist. In his My Year Of Flops entry on Elizabethtown, Nathan Rabin coined the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to describe that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." In Elizabethtown, Kirsten Dunst plays the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a flirty, flighty chatterbox stewardess who razzles and dazzles brooding sensitive guy Orlando Bloom. Coked up, or merely high on life? You be the judge. Though Dunst in Elizabethtown and Natalie Portman in Garden State epitomize the contemporary Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the strangely resilient archetype has its roots in the nutty dames of screwball comedy. For every era, there's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl perfectly suited to the times".