Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten
Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller
Star in a movie.
And it’s bloody good.
Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) cobbles together a fine looking cast in a story of a dysfunctional family brought together by their patriarchal father’s art and ailments. Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) is a veteran sculptor who, via a myriad of marriages, is father to three very different (adult) children – down on his luck Danny (Sandler), hotshot businessman Matthew (Stiller) and reclusive Jean (Marvel). They all feel the looming shadow their father casts over them and in turn each vie for his affection – with little or no success.
After a recent divorce and with his daughter, Eliza (Van Patten), heading to college, Danny moves in with his father and bizarre tee-total alcoholic stepmother Maureen (Thompson) in New York. Jean is there waiting, and Matthew will be arriving from LA in a few weeks for a whistle-stop visit, giving the three a rare chance to bond – or at least try to connect. When word gets out that Matthew is attempting to broker a deal to sell Harold’s work and house, Danny is furious, but Harold is nonplussed. In order to gain greater exposure for their fathers ‘under-rated’ works, Danny and Jean organize a celebration of his works at the college he teaches at. When Matthew eventually arrives, it’s clear he and Harold’s personalities don’t get on. In fact, each sibling is a strange reflection of each other and their father and are all much more similar than they’d like to admit – Eliza aside who is off making arty nude movies under the pseudonym ‘Pagina Man’.
When Harold is hospitalized with a long-simmering brain condition, the siblings are forced to face their internal issues and their differences with each other in order to escape from their father's grip and enjoy life for themselves.
A finalist for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, The Meyerowitz Stories is a remarkably well-told story of a defective family that unravels without ever feeling overly-clichéd or well-trodden, though the story itself is a well-used one. The storytelling is split into separate segments, that each tie together, allowing each character time to develop and gives the viewer a chance to see their individual personalities, how they bounce off each other and the influence Harold has had on them. It’s a surprisingly effective method, the jarring cuts/transitions that interrupt monologues and scenes feel almost as if we are watching personal moments of people’s lives unfold. There’s no real rush to tell the story, it’s pacing akin to that of the marvellous Paterson, here’s a snapshot into a family’s existence that we see untangle at a leisurely pace.
The dialogue is intentionally heavy and wordy, each member of the family talking over the other in an attempt to gain an invisible upper-hand in another example of their similarities – the need for a kind of supremacy. There’s also a lot of past exposition to get through, and much of it features later on in the movie and ultimately serves a purpose.
In dramatic roles, Sandler and Stiller deliver their finest work as the similarly opposite half-brothers. Sandler is mighty as the focal point of the younger siblings, there’s a subtlety to his performance that is rarely-hinted at in his previous works and his straddling of tragic and comedic is struck extremely well here. What a surprising performance. Stiller, too, is strong within his role in his best work yet. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as the crotchety, embittered old man – never content with his children’s successes and always there to put down anyone’s achievements as he battles to remain relevant. His spiky humour offsets the bitterness that would turn a lesser actor down an unbearable path and ensures a top-class performance. The comedic talents of Marvel shine through in her near-background role and she garners many of the movies true laughs.
Finally appearing together in a major movie, Sandler and Stiller are allowed a few moments for their comedic chops to appear – a double-team effort to trash an old man’s car is followed by a brawl in the grass – and their restraint is admirable.
The Meyerowitz Stories is not just simply a tale of familial gloom. The characters are depicted as crawling up a hill, but they are given helping hands along the way and a light at the end of the tunnel. The comparisons don’t judge stretch to Harold - Matthew is successful but miserable whereas Danny is failing but finds warmth from his daughter. Matthew’s relationship with his young son is estranged, to say the least. The family comes together when they need to, and become stronger with every setback that occurs. The relationship between Jean and Eliza is subtle yet strong, though Eliza is closer to her grandfather in more positive ways than she realizes. Also, Danny’s bond with his daughter is unquestionable and he is always supportive of her and her decisions which was nice to see.
There are some great moments throughout the movie – father and daughter connecting over music, the siblings all rising to question the doctors’ decision to take a vacation during their fathers treatment, heartfelt eulogies to Harold at his art gathering, the car trashing scene, Eliza’s bizarre movies (and the unmoved family reaction) and the conclusion are all highlights that flow from the screen. Hoffman’s brash comedy hits the mark and Marvel’s timing is spot-on, whereas Sandler and Stiller impress with their mature, nuanced performances.
The pacing and editing may not suit everyone, and the dialogue may also be too fluid and heavy for others, however, I believe The Meyerowitz Stories succeeds on the majority of levels it strives for. It’s at times poignant, heart-warming, infuriating and hilarious, but its end result is superb. Surprisingly grand performances from the Hollywood men-children add another feather in the movie’s cap and ensure the movie is consistently excellent throughout.
October 17th 2017