By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Noah Baumbach might be one of the best filmmakers who can tell stories about individual and familial dysfunction and make them not only poignant and emotional, but also hilarious and fun. Baumbach has returned with a new film, but one that is not opening in theaters. Coming to Netflix on October 13, 2017, The Meyerowitz Stories offers a glimpse into the lives of the members of the Meyerowitz family, whose members must deal with their own personal demons and isssues, but also have to attend to the needs of their patriarch and his drunken wife. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, and Ben Stiller, Baumbach’s latest film is yet another example of his prowess as a writer and director, and is movie which can boast exceptional performances by the ensemble cast.
Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) has spent most of his adult life dedicated to his work as artist. This dedication, along with his self-absorbed tendencies, have taken their toll on several marriages and the children born through them. Harold’s oldest son Danny (Sandler) has moved in with him and his latest wife Maureen (Thompson) after a marital separation. As Danny prepares to send his aspiring filmmaker daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) off to college, he faces a crisis of self-worth as he assesses his life as a stay-at-home father. In fact as the other siblings Jean (Marvel) and Matthew (Stiller) return home for a celebration of their father’s art, everyone must come to terms with some personal crises of their own, issues with their father, and a bitter rivalry that often flares up whenever the family reunites.
After focussing on individual or dual characters’ neuroses in his past four narrative feature films, Baumbach takes on a family of five and their problems in The Meyerowitz Stories. Once again Baumbach delivers a great script that deals with different stages of life, and all of the regrets, bitter feelings, and adjustments that must be made when the inevitable changes arrive. Baumbach’s screenplay offers his talented cast an amazing starting point from which they can truly blossom and develop the characters in some bold, exciting and entertaining ways. Baumbach also shows his skills as a director in capturing the best work that they have to offer. The scenes work so tremendously well and come across as true to life. The conversations flow naturally and sometimes chaotically, but never lose the intended emotional impacts.
Hoffman, Sandler, Thompson, Marvel, Stiller and Van Patten easily deserve some attention for their work as an ensemble cast. Each actor brings their own brand of melancholy, anger, and comic timing to their characters. Dustin Hoffman is exceptional as the quintessential curmudgeon with an opinion on every subject and the inability to choose his battles carefully. Adam Sandler delivers a performance that comes wonderfully close to rivaling his exceptional turn as Barry Egan in Punch Drunk Love. As Danny Meyerowitz, Sandler brings much charm and wit to his character, but also shows his range by portraying Danny as having a more melancholy and pitiful side. Ben Stiller performs well as Matthew, the most financially successful Meyerowitz who spends most of his time focused on his career and away from his family. Elizabeth Marvel and Emma Thompson occasionally steal the show as Jean and Maureen Meyeorwitz and Grace Van Patten makes a welcome addition to the family as Danny’s daughter Eliza. The movie also features some funny appearances by Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, and Candace Bergen.
Though I’m sure this movie won’t appeal to everyone, I feel that fans of Noah Baumbach’s previous films will certainly enjoy this latest study of familial dysfunction. The movie is dialogue heavy and doesn’t feature much action. The entire focus is on the characters and how they relate to one another. I can see some similarities with Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, but the setting and characters of Baumbach’s film are more grounded in modern-day reality. I can also see some possible inspiration from the writings of JD Salinger. So, I would keep those things in mind when deciding to select this movie which I highly recommend. I feel that the writing, direction and performances make this one not to miss.