‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’ – Review
Hannah and Her Sisters meets Master Of None in Noah Baumbach’s exceptional family comedy-drama, starring an ensemble including Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel and Emma Thompson.
They say friends are like family, except you get to choose. It’s pretty obvious Mayarowitzes Harold and Danny and Matthew and Jean wouldn’t ever select each other’s company, had biology and the lottery of birth not thrown them together unmajestically. Harold’s first three acrimonious marriages (he insists only two – one was annulled) only complicated the situation further. This is the premise of Noah Baumbach’s remarkable and life-affirming family comedy-drama, starring Dustin Hoffman as patriarch Harold, Ben Stiller as favourite-son Matthew, Elizabeth Marvel as only-forgotten-daughter Jean, and Adam Sandler in a surprise, perhaps career-best performance.
The movie opens with Sandler’s inept, soon-to-be divorced Danny driving with his daughter to his father Harold’s house. Here we meet Jean and Harold’s eccentric, alcoholic wife Maureen (Emma Thompson). In these early stages Baumbach’s screenplay threatens to slip into a post-Woody Allen people-arguing-over-dinner movie, but in truth The Meyerowitz Stories grows into a memorable portrait of a dysfunctional, disjointed family that holds together not despite but because they can’t seem to stand each other.
Sandler parodies the outspoken arrogance for which his characters have become so loved and hated in recent years. Liberated by a formidable script and the depth of the outstanding performances that surround him, he reaches new heights. Most notable of these others is Grace Van Patten, a sure-fire rising star who appears to carry all that Emma Watson strives for in, say, The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Charming and high-spirited, her Eliza seems to encapsulate an enthusiasm for life flagging within more senior Mayarowitzes.
But the centre of the film is Dustin Hoffman’s likable and lamentable Harold, a New York sculptor of debatable talent, at the end of his professional years but hardly free of regrets. He is surrounded by a collection of family members eccentric and restless – all of which are the way they are, for better or worse, because of him. There is nuanced and tempered character development for all but one of them: the others later regret they remains “just the same”, having missed the emotional journey they (and we, the audience) have undergone.
Such a complex, true-feeling portrayal of the dysfunctional family is rare, perhaps last seen in Michael Arndt’s sublime Little Miss Sunshine. But Baumbach’s avant-garde direction and editing give this a slick Master Of None feel (New York, I’m sure, helps.) Though the symbolism isn’t explicitly presented (à la Jill Solloway’s Amazon series Transparent), Judaism is at the heart of the film’s existentialism, and Harold’s obsession with the artist. A masterful score from Randy Newman (Toy Story, Meet the Parents) heightens the film’s reflective tone, the foundation on which it begins and ends beautifully. They’ll be all right, Baumbach seems to say, but it’ll never be easy.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) will be released on Netflix, October 13th.
By Adam Solomons – @adamsolomons5