FEATURING SIGOURNEY WEAVER AS HERSELF
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Review by Paul Preston
Noah Baumbach’s latest film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), begins in a car as Adam Sandler’s character Danny tries to have a heart-to-heart with his daughter Eliza all while attempting to find a place to park on a busy Manhattan block. Their personable talk is frequently interrupted by Danny screaming at the other drivers. They’re headed to Harold Meyerowitz’s apartment and the energy in the car is only right for the person they’re about to see.
Harold isn’t an outright bully or belligerent father, but his selfishness and inability to pay close attention to his family member’s needs have made him a tough dad to deal with growing up (and a tough dad to deal with once all grown). Danny’s screaming in the car is no doubt amped up just due to the fact that he’s getting closer and closer to his frustrating father. Once he and Eliza land in Harold’s apartment, Baumbach’s lightning-fast dialogue is off to the races. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is in theaters for a week but debuting on Netflix at the same time, but don’t think you can do that stupid thing where you watch a movie while you’re doing something else around the house. Miss a minute, miss a lot, the characters barrel through plot, emotions and backstory in machine gun fashion and you have to keep up to keep on it. But like any good movie, it’s WORTH PAYING ATTENTION! (I can’t believe we live in a time when I have to tell people to pay attention to a movie…)
Harold is a sculptor whose most lauded days are behind him, and those days were not as grand as he hoped. His struggle for acceptance is one of the many things that had in neglect his son Danny and his daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). One sibling that did get much of Harold’s attention (and found success as a lawyer) is Matthew, played by Ben Stiller. As Harold is on the verge of a modest art exhibit at a college and selling his N.Y. apartment he now shares with his new wife (Emma Thompson) and that’s what brings the whole family together in a firestorm of old feelings and new ones that are still painful. As in the best comedies, however, pain brings with it a lot of laughs, even if you feel guilty snickering at the characters’ agony.
Every now and then, Adam Sandler finds himself in a prestige project. He should do it more often, they sit well on him. Occasionally his vocal pattern is repetitive, but his lock onto Danny’s hurt and his deftness with a funny line is squarely on point here. Hoffman is in a profoundly relaxed mode as he plays Harold on a downward spiral but never over-playing his situation. It’s so good to see Hoffman in a role he can really own, I feel like he hasn’t been in that position for about a decade (we can’t count the Kung Fu Panda series here, right?). Ben Stiller finds a rhythm with Sandler that is just perfect as bickering brothers and, living up to her name, Elizabeth Marvel is the discovery here. I feel like once you get past two kids in a family, you’re bound to have a Jean, and Marvel wears the neglect she was handed by her father with the greatest depth. This is a fantastic ensemble doing what they’re best at and Baumbach’s direction and style in general is actor-friendly.
I’m late to the Baumbach game, but I love being in a position like that ‘cause it gives me so much to look forward to. I like his style, and Frances Ha, another Baumbach film I’ve seen, shares its best characteristics with Meyerowitz – crackling dialogue, rich characters and breakneck pace. There’s no real blow-up-the-Death-Star moment that The Meyerowitz Stories is leading to, but one of my favorite late-movie scenes has to be at the art exhibit when each of the brothers gets a turn on the mic and the emotion and awkwardness creeps in. There’s family dysfunction right up to the film’s end and by then I don’t know who’s more spent, the viewer or the characters. It’s like any good workout, you get beat up a bit, but feel great afterwards.