It’s not easy to love Roger Greenberg, the latest misanthrope Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) has created as the star of his new comedy. Greenberg, played by a pitch-perfect Ben Stiller, is insufferable: narcissistic, cruel and calculating, and totally oblivious to his shortcomings. That he has friends, much less a doting and very forgiving lover (Greta Gerwig), is nothing short of a miracle.
There’s no shortage of pain in The Answer Man, the opening-night selection at last April’s Sonoma Film Festival. Nearly everyone in it seems paralyzed by hopelessness, fear of rejection and emotional numbness. They’re looking for a savior, and in one famously reclusive author – think J.D. Salinger, if he’d written a bestselling spiritual guide instead of Catcher in the Rye – they think they’ve found him.
The Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off tonight with the Northern California premiere of The Answer Man, a shrewdly amusing drama starring Jeff Daniels (The Lookout, Traitor) as the author of a spiritual self-help book.
The film, which earned critical raves and a Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance, marks the feature debut of writer-director John Hindman, who was able to lure Daniels to the project on the strength of his script alone. (At the time, Hindman had no movie deal, much less a budget for big-name talent.) Daniels, whose reclusive writer believes none of his own bestselling psychobabble, heads a talent-rich cast featuring Lauren Graham, Kat Dennings and Juno’s Olivia Thirlby.