When I told a friend of mine I was reviewing The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) she naturally asked me what it was about. I took a minute to think about it, and finally, I said, “It’s about three semi-estranged siblings and their relationship with their overbearing artist father. Sort of.” Once I registered the blank look in her eyes, I added, “You know, it sounds boring when you put it like that, but it’s really good!”
Indeed, you could give a hundred filmmakers a hundred typewriters and ask them to each write a movie from that premise and only about ten of them would churn out something good. But only Noah Baumbach would give you a script like The Meyerowitz Stories.
The setup: The three Meyerowitz children have, for more or less their own reasons, congregated in the home of their father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler), unemployed but a talented pianist, has just separated from his wife. They haven’t gotten along for years but stayed together until their daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), has gone away to college. Now that the separation is official, Danny is planning on staying with his dad for a bit. Matthew (Ben Stiller) is a big shot money manager come home to assist with Harold’s plan to sell the house and all the art in it. Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is… well, she’s basically won the award for Black Sheep-iest. As mentioned earlier, the main dramatic thrust of the film is the three children dealing with their father, whom they can never seem to please. (Yes, that’s a reductive way to boil it down, but discovering the complexities of the relationships is the joy of the film.)
Baumbach has a special gift when it comes to depicting life in a way that is entertaining without losing the emotional truths that lie at the core of a moment. He is at once able to distill moments down to their emotional essence and intensify them. In The Meyerowitz Stories especially, he works in a sort of heightened realism. By that I mean scenes are bound within the constraints of the style but have just a little more umpf. This subtle magnification makes the virtues and flaws of the characters more prominent, which then makes viewers (or me at least; I can’t speak for you, I suppose) more able to make an emotional connection to the film. Every character is a sort of Everyman. Let me rephrase: the relationships in the film are Everyman-type relationships. While the specific life circumstances of these characters might not be my or your specific life circumstances (I don’t have an overbearing, pretentious, semi-successful sculptor for a father), I’m sure a lot of you know the feeling of never being able to do anything right, or never being able to please and live up to expectations.
Everything in The Meyerowitz Stories just seems right. The film achieves a special sense of verisimilitude that comes from a rare combination of writer, director, creative team, and cast that is working in perfect harmony.
Which is good, because a script is only as good as the cast that plays it. Luckily, everyone here is on their A-game. While every cast member is deserving of praise, I’d like to give a special shoutout to Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. It’s been in vogue for a while now to cast comedians or comic actors in dramatic roles. Of course, both men have both been put in this territory before, but neither has done it as well as here. If there’s any justice in this world, they’ll be remembered for this film instead of things like Happy Gilmore (which I don’t like very much; call me an elitist if you will) and Tropic Thunder (which I do, in fact, like quite a bit).
The basic plot of The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) could, in the hands of a lesser writer/director, have been a trite rehash of themes of the hardships of family et cetera et cetera. I mean, it’s well-trodden territory, but what isn’t? Instead, Noah Baumbach has once again given us an intelligent, incisive, insightful, and fresh examination of emotional baggage we all carry.
And so, to put a final button on the review, I’ll give you my recommendation: Watch the movie. It’s streaming on Netflix now.
The film premiered at the 2017 New York Film Festival.