Ben Stiller attempts to flex his acting muscles in this depressing 'comedy', writes DAMON SMITH
MISERY loves company - our company - in writer-director Noah Baumbach's deeply depressing character study, based on a story conceived with his wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The film provides funny man Ben Stiller with a rare opportunity to prove himself as an actor.
Unfortunately, the gifted comedian doesn't possess the emotional range to embody the nuanced role with conviction, undermining sterling work from the rest of the cast.
Co-star Greta Gerwig, one of the leading lights of the low budget, indie film circuit, leads the way with a sweet, charming and at times heartbreaking performance that reveals the chinks in her character's brittle armour.
"I've just got out of a long relationship," she tells a guy she picks up at a party.
"This isn't a relationship," he replies, clearly intending to use her for sex then cast her out in the morning.
She timidly submits.
Regrettably the focal point of the film is Roger Greenberg (Stiller), a 40-year-old malcontent who walked away from a recording contract and potential fame and fortune with his band, Magic Marker.
He gave up everything to become a carpenter - a useful trade to smooth out the rough edges of Stiller's wooden performance.
Roger is the sort of deeply disagreeable man who telephones an airline to complain about a malfunctioning recliner button on one of the seats.
He moves temporarily to Los Angeles to house-sit for his brother Phillip (Messina) and keep an eye on the family dog, a gorgeous German Shepherd named Mahler.
Phillip's personal assistant Florence (Gerwig), who is still raw from a recent break-up, pops in every day to run errands and tend to the mutt.
She is strangely drawn to Roger and the pair begin an off-on-off-on-off romance that does both of them more emotional damage than good.
Meanwhile, Roger rebuilds bridges with former band-mate, Ivan (Ifans), and tries to motivate himself to build a dog kennel.
Greenberg is unremittingly bleak and the central character doesn't have one likeable facet.
"I throw a party last minute and then I am disappointed when nobody comes," laments Roger at one point.
Surprisingly no one informs him that his noticeable lack of company is probably because he sucks the life out of a room simply by entering it.
Why a beautiful young woman like Florence, emotionally wounded though she may be, would give him one glance let alone two is a mystery.
"Life is wasted on... people," proclaims Roger at one point - it's certainly wasted on him because all he does is hurt the people around him without any thought of the repercussions.
The end of this 107-minute therapy session cannot come quickly enough. ..