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“How are you?” Beth (Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh) asks her ex-boyfriend, a per­pet­u­ally scowl­ing neu­rotic named Roger Green­berg (Ben Stiller), early in Noah Baum­bach’s new film. “Leonard Maltin would give me a two and a half,” Green­berg re­sponds.

I can’t be quite as kind with Green­berg, a some­times an­noy­ing drama that re­quires a lot of pa­tience but still ex­udes enough charm to carry it through. Baum­bach, who di­rected The Squid and the Whale and Mar­got at the Wed­ding (and who scripted last year’s Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox) also wrote Green­berg, based on a story he and his wife, Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh, con­ceived.

All th­ese films re­volve around the fam­ily unit in one way or an­other, and that unit is usu­ally dis­rupted by con­flict, sex­ual or ro­man­tic angst, and char­ac­ters who can’t quite find their place in the world.

Roger — known to all as Green­berg — falls into the last cat­e­gory. He’s a mu­si­cian-turned-car­pen­ter who is out of place in a crowd, and even more so when he’s alone. He just got out of a hospi­tal.

“Was he sick?” one char­ac­ter asks Phillip, Roger’s brother. “Not that kind of hospi­tal,” Phillip ex­plains. With noth­ing to do but con­cen­trate on do­ing noth­ing, Green­berg agrees to house-sit for his

IGreen­berg, lost-in-L.A. angst­fest, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 2 chiles

brother in Los An­ge­les. Green­berg’s only real chore is to watch the fam­ily dog and build a dog house. En­ter Florence (Greta Ger­wig), Phillip’s per­sonal as­sis­tant, who swings by to pick up last week’s check. She dis­cov­ers that Green­berg doesn’t drive, which means she’s got to run around pick­ing up dog food and whiskey for him. She takes him back to her apart­ment, where he im­me­di­ately be­gins to me­chan­i­cally per­form oral sex on her.

She’s ob­vi­ously not into it, but she doesn’t protest ei­ther. “Do you hear a train?” she non­cha­lantly asks as Green­berg sets about his task. They don’t get very far af­ter that.

It turns out this is a ro­man­tic match made in a trauma ward. Both are hurt­ing — we never quite learn why — and both want to reach out. But in do­ing so, they tend to hit, rather than ca­ress, be­cause they just don’t know how to love. Even their smiles are hes­i­tant.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that Florence sees that other peo­ple hurt, and Green­berg does not. He’s obliv­i­ous to the pain, the loss, and the angst of his so-called friends, in­clud­ing Beth and one of his old band mates, Ivan (Rhys Ifans). Green­berg only be­gins to feel the slight­est pangs of em­pa­thy when his brother’s dog falls mys­te­ri­ously ill and has to be rushed to the an­i­mal hospi­tal.

Green­berg doesn’t even come close to want­ing to be a feel-good ro­man­tic com­edy, in which the doggy’s close call with death or any of the other po­ten­tially tragic per­sonal events that be­fall the char­ac­ters shake Green­berg out of his neu­ro­sis to a happy end­ing. Green­berg is a risky movie. It’s in no hurry to get to where it’s go­ing, and it places con­sid­er­able em­pha­sis on its ti­tle char­ac­ter’s self-in­dul­gent per­son­al­ity. It doesn’t help that Stiller plays the char­ac­ter with ei­ther rage or cyn­i­cal de­tach­ment, as if he’s a dis­tant cousin to sim­i­lar char­ac­ters in lesser Woody Allen movies.

What does help is the work of the sup­port­ing cast, in­clud­ing Ger­wig. Her Florence is adrift in a world that seems to have no use for her, and yet she keeps chug­ging along, vainly hop­ing that some­thing or some­one will tow her into port. There’s a scene early in the film where she wakes up next to a one-night stand af­ter un­event­ful, clumsy sex, and her hand reaches out to touch her lover’s back with an un­easy cau­tion, as if she’s afraid she will be elec­tro­cuted.

Equally ef­fec­tive is the work of Ifans and Mer­ritt Wever, who plays Gina, Florence’s in­quis­i­tive, lo­qua­cious friend. Gina seems to be the only char­ac­ter in the story who isn’t filled with in­ner pain. All the other peo­ple are in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, and the only drug that can save them is love, which is ev­i­dently be­ing ra­tioned.

The edit­ing and pre­sen­ta­tion of scenes is oc­ca­sion­ally con­fus­ing, and the sound­track res­onates with ham­mer­like noises that may re­mind you of a cuckoo clock us­ing ex­plo­sions to an­nounce the time — ap­par­ently to blud­geon us with the no­tion that life can be a loud, bumpy ride for some. There’s very lit­tle back story — Baum­bach prefers to put peo­ple who are in­ter­nally torn up in an un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment and then watch them ei­ther im­plode or des­per­ately at­tempt to save them­selves. Still, the pic­ture has the weight of quiet au­thor­ity, it’s laced with juicy lit­tle mo­ments of wry hu­mor, and it’s packed with enough quirky se­quences to make you want to root for th­ese peo­ple.

Mind the heel: Greta Ger­wig and Ben Stiller

En­nui for three: Greta Ger­wig, Rhys Ifans, and Ben Stiller

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