Noah Baumbach’s latest, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), is the story of a family reuniting when a confluence of life events causes them to float together.
Danny (Adam Sandler) moves back in with his father (Dustin Hoffman) during a divorce that leaves him without income. At the same time, his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) is beginning film school (her first film is a strangely humorous Avant-garde piece about a hermaphroditic superhero).
Danny’s half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) is en route as their father prepares for an art exhibition at Bard. Matthew is the only real bread-winner in the family, the one that chose the “practical” route. He is a “business manager,” aka a glorified accountant, who is working on the finances of an irresponsible yet wealthy youth (Adam Driver).
The Meyerowitz Stories hangs on to the usual preoccupations of Baumbach’s films: aging, familial strife, hangups on what makes a life successful. In this film, these themes are handled with a surprising maturity.
The Meyerowitz family is not merely the typical dysfunction that is found so often in film. Their history, both stated and inferred, inform their motivations and decisions throughout the film in an engaging and ultimately realistic way.
This realism in character idiosyncrasies is dictated by the script, which is whip-smart but not overly reliant on dark comedy to make its case. However, the ensemble cast embodies the characters perfectly.
Sandler channels his Punch Drunk Love personality, which is to say that although he is a bit too shouty to come off as nuanced he is still putting in one of the best performances of his career. Emma Thompson plays what would essentially be a wino stereotype were it not for her brilliant charisma.
Then there is Dustin Hoffman, whose curmudgeonly performance is the brightest in the film. He rambles on, circling back to the same handful of one-line anecdotes, but he makes it clear that there is so much more hidden underneath the empty words.
As a result, that Hoffman disappears halfway through the film takes something away from the experience, even if the narrative choices make a lot of sense.
As a family drama with dark comedy underpinnings, The Meyerowitz Stories is a satisfying story. The only major flaw in the film comes in the form of blocking issues, where characters need to do something while merely talking so they walk a few feet and then return to their initial mark. Given that the film feels like a series of intertwining short stories or a novel, it makes sense that these visual issues exist.
Therefore the film, as a film, feels flat. The script doesn’t lend itself to a visual medium, even if there are some flourishes with editing that try to make the film feel more cinematic.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected): B+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)