The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), 2017.
Directed by Noah Baumbach.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, and Grace Van Patten.
The estranged, middle-aged children of a New York artist reconnect with each other in the wake of their father’s illness.
After a spate of juvenile comedies, Adam Sandler has found a nurturing guide in the form of Noah Baumbach. The Greenberg and Margot at the Wedding director serves up prime material for Sandler and the rest of his A-list cast to sink their teeth into, and it’s a joy to watch.
In The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Sandler plays Danny, one-third of the offspring of Dustin Hoffman’s Harold, a New York sculptor and university lecturer. The thrice-divorced Harold is on his latest wife, an eccentric drunk named Maureen (Emma Thompson), and the couple split their time between comfortable homes in the city and countryside. When the movie opens, Danny is en route to his father and step-mother’s place following an amicable separation from his own spouse, while also dropping off his film student daughter at university.
It’s immediately obvious the 40-something Danny is still eager to please his affable, albeit conceited, dad. Despite being an absent parent, Harold is critical of his children, especially regarding their artistic talents. He frequently dishes out backhanded compliments and life advice, leaving Danny in a state of mild anxiety and vulnerability.
Harold makes it clear which son is his favourite – that’s Matthew (Ben Stiller), a successful Los Angeles-based business manager. In Harold’s eyes, Danny and his nebbish sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) don’t quite measure up to their half-brother. This judgement puts Danny on edge too, particularly as Matthew seems to be in contact with everyone else but him.
A decision to sell the Manhattan house – as well as a plan to hold a minor retrospective of Harold’s work, mostly to placate his bruised ego – forces the dysfunctional Meyerowitz clan together. Then suddenly they’re pushed even closer when Harold is taken to hospital to treat a neglected head injury.
Baumbach’s script, though treading on familiar cinematic ground (think Woody Allen and Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums), is delightful and bittersweet. Of course the Meyerowitzes are an unconventional bunch, however, Baumbach captures instantly recognisable family dynamics and personalities. No matter age, wealth and geography, there are ways in which only close relatives can understand, support, wheedle and annoy one another.
The ensemble’s chemistry is totally natural and feels effortless. Individually, Sandler, Stiller and Marvel give rich performances, but – as a trio – their representation of grown-up sibling bonding truly sparkles. Hoffman is brilliant as the gruff, self-absorbed patriarch who perhaps doesn’t deserve this amount of affection from his children. And finally Thompson is a riot as the dotty lush with a penchant for bizarre food dishes, including shark and shellfish soup.
The Meyerowitz Stories is the second Netflix feature to screen in competition at Cannes 2017. The positive reviews for this movie and Okja certainly suggest that the video-on-demand service may have devised a winning formula.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★