Thoughts on Greenberg, a Mental Patient, a Movie

Today, I watched the movie Greenberg, which was released back in 2010, but I had never seen it until now. It is about a 40-year-old man named Roger Greenberg (played by Ben Stiller) who recently suffered a “nervous breakdown”, and takes some time away from his New York life to house-sit for his brother in L.A.

movie, Greenberg, mental patient, mental illness

My educated guess is that Greenberg is bipolar, although a brief “stay in a mental hospital” is all that is mentioned. His erratic behavior, self-obsession, hypercriticism, mania, impulsivity, and anger issues cause many problems in his relationships with others and with his own peace of mind. Sound familiar?

He hooks up with his brother’s assistant, Florence, a passive somewhat flighty 25-year-old, who offered the most memorable line in the movie for me as she was talking to her friend about Greenberg:

“You can tell that a lot of normal stuff is really hard for him.”

…like maintaining friendships, hosting a get-together, shopping, driving, and taking care of the family dog when it becomes ill, to name a few.

As big of an A-hole as this Greenberg could be, I felt bad for him because a lot of normal stuff is really hard for me, too, and I often get frustrated with myself…the same way Greenberg’s brother and friends get with him for “not trying harder” or “not being able to control his emotional outbursts” or “obsessing over things.”

Florence seems to see beyond Greenberg’s neurotic behaviors. She sees him not as the jerk he is on the outside, but as a person who is victim to a disease he can’t completely control.

It was a weird movie that left me feeling unsettled because it wasn’t one of those feel-good endings like he conquered all of his demons and was cured. He was still the same…just a bit more grounded with her in his life.

This post isn’t meant to be a movie review. It is meant to process the take away message I gathered, which is that Greenberg’s an ass because he has a mental illness and he’s lucky he found someone who understands that.

Seems rather depressing to me, but is this reality for some of us…if we are lucky?

What are your thoughts? How many rude, obnoxious, mean people do you know? Have you ever considered the fact that they may have a mental illness whose symptoms are flaring up? And that if they didn’t have a mental illness, they might be fairly tolerable and decent to people the majority of the time? Is mental illness an excuse for bad behavior or merely an explanation, or both?