granddaughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). Harold’s goggle-eyed fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) has made shark-fin soup for the main course, though the meat's still a little raw, the rice is still crunchy, and the supplemental clams are still shelled. Conversations bring back old memories, but they also widen old rifts.
We immediately recognize this familial dynamic. Everyone in the room couldn’t live without the other, but they drive each other so crazy we’d suspect that maybe they’d be better off spending some time apart. But we know that’ll never happen, and since the movie watches as they deal with a tragedy in the making, they’re often attached at the hip.
The Meyerowitz Stories, divided into character-centric parts (the first’s focused on Danny, the second on the oldest son and biggest anomaly, Matthew (Ben Stiller), and the third on Jean), wrestles with the difficulties of their relationships. The movie’s particularly concerned with how Harold, an accidentally aloof sculptor who makes everyone feel inferior, has affected the adult lives of his kids. How he’s shaped their senses of self, for better or worse.
It’s the sort of character-driven, wryly funny dramedy Baumbach’s been working toward his entire career. Though he’s consistently made excellent, tonally-similar films for more than two decades, the high points including 2005’s The Squid and the Whale and 2012’s Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories makes for a kind of summarization of what’s made Baumbach such an unequaled comedy director all these years. Here, he combines a sharp, Lubitsch-meets-Altman sensibility with a soulful feel for these characters. We’re able to peek inside the minds of these damaged individuals as often as we’re able to laugh at their inability to distance themselves from their neuroses. This is a comedy which bruises, but it’s also a family drama that stirs as palpably as more painful genre works like Ordinary People (1980).
It’s an unforeseen pleasure — it recently came out on Netflix without much promotion — though not just because we’re pressed to think of another recent family movie as universal and smart. Another reason The Meyerowitz Stories is among the year’s most instantaneously classic works has to do with the performances: the provided roles are juicier than much of what this ensemble’s been given to work with for the last few years.
Hoffman, the industry’s most long-lasting diva, flexes his performative muscles with a characterization that gives him as much an opportunity to boast his comedic chops as it does a chance to play a character lost in an oceanic ego. Stiller glows as a successful businessman who seems to have his shit together (but is actually emotionally impaired); Marvel, finally in a role worthy of her talents (she’s among the best character actresses), is a comedic revelation, as dryly funny as she is quietly heartbreaking.
But the cherry at the top of the layer cake that is The Meyerowitz Stories is Adam Sandler, thankfully taking a break from hammering more nails into the coffin of his restlessly declining career. Playing a black sheep who wants nothing more than to live up to the expectations of a father who won’t even make those expectations clear, he affects as an unsatisfied 40-something who just wants to be enough. While Danny is prone to falling victim to the operatic meltdowns found in most of Sandler’s performances, here they feel earned. He’s a man-child who knows what he’s good at and has to offer, but can’t effectively express those things because he feels so inadequate. It’s a wonderful performance, this casserole of bubbling-over frustration and tangible sorrow.
But the performance is just one ingredient in the complicated but tasty dish that is The Meyerowitz Stories. It’s as funny as it is humanistic, as deeply felt as it is expertly performed. This is a family movie easy to love, even if the characters starring within it don’t so effortlessly love one another. But that’s all part of the charm. A
Grace Van Patten
1 Hr., 52 Mins.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) November 3, 2017
here’s a sequence early in Noah Baumbach’s career-best The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017) that just might ring true for anyone. It’s a sunny autumn evening and the Meyerowitz family is coming together for dinner, this time at patriarch Harold’s (Dustin Hoffman) cozy New York brownstone. Two of his children, the irritable Danny (Adam Sandler) and the mousy Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), are here, and so is his aspiring filmmaker