Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, “The Meyerowitz Stories (new and selected)” is a Netflix original movie about the inherent drama in family life and how it can be both tragic and at times, hilarious. There is a plot at hand prodding characters into rooms with each other, but the film is mostly concerned with how each of these family members interact with each other rather than involving any sort of macguffin to pursue. After months of devouring films soaked in science fiction and battered in fantasy laced with imagination, this was quite the reprieve from my more genre based consumption and I really did enjoy it quite a lot actually. Speaking of which, barring any all-encompassing Holiday errands I’ll be trying to get into showings of both “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, but back to the film at hand. As the film is divided into sections with title cards, I’ll mirror that and give each major character their due diligence.
The film begins with a title card, “Danny” and the briefest of introductions in a second card which began the film with “Danny Meyerowitz was trying to park”. The scene plays out in much the same way that Danny’s own life has, trying to find a spot, but always missing the opportunity. He desperately tries to fit in, but never quite makes it. Adam Sandler finds in Danny Meyerowitz a similar well of history and emotion to draw from that he’s occasionally brought to the odds and ends of his film work, his work here is evocative of his “Punch Drunk Love” character in his quietly building rage and incandescent sadness. Danny is the closest we come to a protagonist in the film, the first third of the story is predicated by bringing his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) to his father’s house in New York the night before she’s to begin college. In a brief scene with Eliza and Danny playing and singing at the piano of house Meyerowitz we see a caring father who was once a musician with potential. In the following scenes we get to understand the inner workings of the family Meyerowitz in how Danny reveals past neglect from his father Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Harold was a sculptor turned academic that was never discovered and therefore never truly obtaining the royal treatment from the intellectual crowd that he so desires. There are years of conflict buried in the way Harold dominates conversation with his sons. He’s a character so self absorbed by his own projects and failures that he could have been a real monster if portrayed by another, but Hoffman plays Harold with enough shades of brevity and aloofness that it never slides into blatant cruelty. A perfect example of this happens when Danny and Harold go to an art show that Harold’s far more successful friend L.J. (Judd Hirsch) was hosting in which Harold tries to share a moment with L.J. but is seemingly forgotten by the crowd of New York Elites clamoring to meet L.J. We even get the briefest of cameos by Sigoruney Weaver as herself as L.J. introduces her to Harold, but she seems to question this introduction as if saying “Who is this person you’ve introduced me to L.J. and why?” Though she does this without malice or scorn. Danny seems to be the only one that listens in the Meyerowitz family, but even he has his outbursts, a tool for Sandler that allows for character moments to shine through his shlubby shouting. Danny really is the heart of the family, and of the film.
Matthew had just arrived on the red-eye from LA, as we’re told with another brief vignette opener. The youngest child of Harold’s and the most successful of the Meyerowitz clan, Matthew’s relationship with his father has a far more antagonistic trait weaved into it. He’s removed himself from the weight of Harold’s expectations by physically living on the opposite side of the country, but also in his career choice. He’s a financial accountant for creative artists that don’t quite know how to handle their money. In Matthew’s introduction we’re greeted by a quick cameo of Adam Driver as the musician/artist/entertainer that’s having building renovations done. Stiller’s Matthew talks Driver down from needing a saltwater pool in his two floors of renovations showcasing his ability to negotiate and play to the off-kilter, quirky, personalities that embody the world of artists. Though he doesn’t look forward to his interactions with his father because of their constant competitive nature being at odds with each other, Harold does heap most of his adoration onto Matthew, the son that wants and needs it least. This second vignette of the film ends with Matthew yelling “I beat you! I beat you and you know it!” at his father as he drives off into the Manhattan night. Love in a family this dysfunctional doesn’t always look or feel correct, but there’s enough done by Noah Baumbach’s direction and the cut of the edit to show that there is connection there, even if it’s not the healthiest of relationships.
-The Group Show-
The disparate family eventually comes together after they all learn of Harold falling and hitting his head, forcing a long gestating hospital visit. The rest of the film is devoted to all of Harold’s family working together to take notes from the various doctors and specialists they’re flung back and forth to while sharing shifts at Harold’s bedside. This shutdown of Harold’s incessant chatter allows his children to assess their relationships with him and how to best move forward in life rather than holding onto the past. Just as the film nearly forgets about Harold’s third child Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) at times, I mustn’t neglect her presence as well. Jean’s the forgotten child, She and Danny came from Harold’s second marriage, and Matthew the third. Quite the opposite from Marvel’s previous roles in “House of Cards” and “Homeland”, Jean is the quiet and most awkward of the three, but even her presence being shadowed by her brothers is ingrained in her story and is relevant to her progression later as she helps Danny’s daughter Eliza by starring in her college films-which I might add are quite the homage to the overly sexualized youth of college age film-making wannabes, but the family treats it as a creative outlet all the same, no matter how much nudity and sexual obscurity fly off the screen when they check-in on her. It would be remiss of me to forgetting to mention Emma Thompson’s performance of Maureen, Harold’s fourth and current wife. Maureen’s a mixture of meshing in with the artistic and elite intellectual crowds through her 1960’s clothing to her drunkenly making Shark soup.
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” turned out to be a fairly funny dive into familial dysfunction with enough nuance to keep the characters grounded and relatable. The relationships of each family member evolve based on reactions of other actors inputting their knowledge of our cast and the choices they made or the way they lived their lives, thereby informing us where the main characters may not have been the most reliably honest keepers of their own histories. It’s a fairly solid movie in a similar vein to Woody Allen’s films, so if you have the time or the curiosity, give this film a shot. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is currently on Netflix at the time of this review.
Final Score: 1 Artistic Patriarch and a Poodle named Bruno