The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected), 2017.
Directed by Noah Baumbach.
Starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Adam Driver, Judd Hirsch, Candice Bergen, Rebecca Miller, Danny Flaherty, Adam David Thompson, Ronald Peet, Matthew Shear, Michael Chernus, and Sigourney Weaver.
A dysfunctional family comes together when the father, a retired sculptor, becomes seriously ill. His children are forced to confront their differences while, at the same time, they have to cope with an event to celebrate his work.
Admit it! Our parents drive us crazy, right? It doesn’t matter how much we love them, there are always times when they send us round the bend for all kinds of reasons. And if dad – or “the dad” as wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) calls him – happens to be Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), he’s a master when it comes to pushing his children’s respective buttons, in his own passive-aggressive way. In truth, he’s never been a great father to any of them.
In the latest from Noah Baumbach, Harold is at the centre of every single one of the episodes we see, even if he’s not physically there. The first one involves Danny (Adam Sandler, at long last returning to comedy) and the second features his other son, Matthew (Ben Stiller), a constant topic of conversation in the first story and often compared – very favourably – with brother Danny. And, as far as Harold is concerned, his rightful place is at the centre of everything – as well as being alongside his wife, with her on-off-on battle against the booze.
It’s familiar, if not favourite, Baumbach territory but taken to new heights. A dysfunctional family, with its members scattered far and wide. Daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is in everybody’s shadow, turning self-deprecation into an art form. Matthew’s young son is just a voice on his mobile phone and we never see his face. And there’s the other grandchild, Danny’s daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) who’s off to college at the start of the film. Once there, it’s not long before she starts making what are perilously close to porn movies.
Everything is turned on its head by a bump on the head: Harold has an accident and it not only puts him in hospital, but it also at death’s door. To use one of his lexicon of favourite phrases, “you should have seen the other dog.” He trots them out to each offspring separately, as if for the first time. Except that everybody knows it’s not. Meeting Sigourney Weaver at an exhibition gives him a new one. “She was very chatty,” he recalls with a smug smile. “She said, ‘Hi, I’m Sigourney’. And I said, ‘Hi, I’m Harold.” But that accident is also a turning point for all his children, both in their relationships with each other and, perhaps most importantly, with him.
Baumbach has created some glorious comedic moments and lengthier sequences that are an utter joy. Matthew, the only one of the children to actually make money, attempting to have lunch with Harold is nothing short of comedy gold. Not only does dad reject the choice of restaurant, but in the one he chooses he takes exception to the guy at the next table: convinced the other diner has stolen his jacket, he and Matthew both chase after him ….. Or there’s Matthew and Danny eventually trying to settle their differences by brawling on the lawn in front of the hospital where Harold is being treated. It’s been a long time coming.
The film also boasts a sublime ensemble cast. Hoffman is an utter treat as the irascible head of the family who drives everybody round the bend. Emma Thompson is almost unrecognisable under a big wig and glasses as the ditsy and tipsy Maureen. There’s others. A one-scene cameo from Adam Driver as a hopeless client of Matthew’s. Judd Hirsch as a rival sculptor, and Rebecca Miller as his daughter and the woman Danny should have got together with but never does.
There’ll be parts of the film that ring true for just about everybody, whether it’s about their relationship with parents or their siblings. But nobody will regret spending time in the company of this family. It’s 100% pure pleasure.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) is screened at the 61st London Film Festival on October 6th, 7th and 12th and released on Netflix on October 13th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★