Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s latest, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), deals with three generations of struggling artists within a dysfunctional family. Grace Van Patten plays Eliza, the youngest member of the family, who is attending the same college her grandfather, Harold (Dustin Hoffman), resided at as a professor. Eliza’s father, Danny (Adam Sandler), has a complicated relationship with his father, Harold. It's all apparent in the film’s first scene—in their drive up to his father’s place, Danny has a near meltdown just trying to find parking. Danny's neurosis stems from the lack of attention Harold gave him growing up. Harold’s other son, Danny’s half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller), is clearly the favorite in the family—Harold says as much to Danny's face. Meanwhile, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Harold’s daughter is sidelined and she fully acknowledges the family’s patriarch was never the best father. While the film hits some of Baumbach’s best comedic highs, its dramatic moments are powerful—Marvel is outstanding as Jean, especially in the scene where she describes a traumatic moment from her past. She has grown at east with all of the familial dysfunctionality, much to the dismay of Matthew and Danny. Each Meyerowitz has their own way of dealing.
The Meyerowitz Stories is split up into chapters centering on each family member—Danny and Eliza visit Harold and Maureen (Emma Thompson), Harold’s current wife; later, Matthew flies into town and tries to have a quick, yet unsuccessful, lunch with his dad; then, the whole family comes together when Harold is admitted into the hospital.
Sandler, as Danny, provides yet another worthwhile performance. It goes to show that, with the right material, the star of The Ridiculous Six can enhance three-dimensional characters that are already on the page. Sandler has a natural pathos that he exudes here, much like his best work in Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People. And, when it’s needed, he goes for his signature manic antics—these moments are few and far between, and it never feels like Sandler is vying for the spotlight.
Now a Baumbach regular, Stiller plays Matthew, the more stable brother in the family who moved away to start his own business. Years of keeping himself at a distance from the Meyerowitzs hasn’t made him any less emotionally hung-up. There’s a brewing bitterness and frustration each time Matthew engages with his father. Baumbach has been steadily crafting zanier and more hyperactive dialogue-filled scenes—Frances Ha and Mistress America have some funniest over-the-top moments in any of his films. The writer-director is at his best here, as he places Harold and Matthew together. Things escalate as Harold gets more and more peeved that a couple sitting next to them at a restaurant is invading his personal space. Stiller, the ever-flustered straight man, tries to handle his father with kid gloves, yet fails miserably—Baumbach brilliantly channels into those anger-laced comedic flares of Stiller, much like Sandler. It’s all heighten by the editing, as the smash cuts throughout serve as heat being turned down on the stove as a tea kettle whistles—it’s all the more striking as the editing techniques change as the movie progresses.
Hoffman fits right into Baumbach’s world as the matter-of-fact, still-struggling artist, head of the Meyerowitz pack. Harold is obsessed with his latest exhibition of his work, hoping to finally make it big in his late age. Matthew, Danny, Jean, and even the young Eliza are all affected by Harold, and Hoffman is the perfect center of this universe, as he breezes through the quick-as-a-whip dialogue and balances the line of being an emotional void and a rare-yet-strong-when-need-be parental figure.
Filled with memorable characters—plus a few well-placed cameos—, that signature Baumbach wit and heart, and stand-out performances from the entire cast, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is yet another Baumbach success. It delivers on laughs and also paints an identifiable portrait of a family trying to come together after years of resentment. You want to see these people come together, and like any family trying to come to terms, it’s a painful yet fulfilling journey.
The Meyerowitz Stories will be available on Netflix on October 13th. But, please make it out to a theatre for its limited release if you can.
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