December 1, 2017 – Writer-Director Noah Baumbach (“Mistress America” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) is a fellow that you can't easily put into a category. His latest film, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is a lot like some of Woody Allen's movies set in New York City. It is a very funny movie about a dysfunctional family of artistic types.
The patriarch of this family is the narcissistic Harold Meyerowitz (played by a bearded Dustin Hoffman of “Chef”) a retired art professor who feels he never got his just recognition for his sculptures. The entire family revolves around Harold's neediness and his endless quest for recognition. His wife, Maureen (played by Emma Thompson of “A Walk in the Woods”) is a drunk who routinely operates in a sort of half conscious state.
Harold's two sons, Danny (Adam Sandler of “Pixels”) and Matthew (Ben Stiller of “Zoolander”) were both emotionally scarred growing up in the chaotic Meyerowitz households (Harold was married four times). Matthew is a successful businessman in California, while Danny, recently divorced, has never worked in a conventional job. Harold's daughter, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel of “Gifted”) is an emotionally damaged, socially awkward woman who has good reason to hate her parents, but shows up at family functions anyway because she says it is “the right thing to do.”
One of the funniest scenes in the movie takes place at lunch in a restaurant between Harold and his son Matthew. Both men talk past each other. They both talk at the same time, neither man listening to the other. Harold talks about himself, his needs and how he feels slighted, while Matthew talks about the company he has just started. During this conversation it is revealed that Harold was the only no-show of all the people invited to Matthew's wedding. He didn't go because the wedding was in California.
At various times in the movie, both Matthew and Danny express a lot of anger towards Harold. Jean reveals a terrible incident from her childhood and Harold's inadequate response at the time. Matthew and Danny respond to her story with a cathartic attack on a car belonging to a man who emotionally scarred their sister long ago. Later, Matthew and Danny get into a fight, wrestling on the ground outside a building where Harold's sculptures are on display.
In the meantime, Harold is hospitalized with a brain injury, while his wife, Maureen, decides to sell the family home, along with the artwork, to a wealthy couple in a deal arranged by Matthew. The decision upsets Danny, partly because he was left out of the decision-making process. This comedy of errors and missed opportunities continues to the end of the movie. In the process, there is some healing in these rocky family relationships.
Although this is a dysfunctional family, and there are a lot of squabbles and fights, there is also love here and there, particularly between Danny and his daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten of “Stealing Cars”) who makes strange porn videos and who is also leaving for college. There is also love evident between Danny, Matthew and Jean. The end of the film finds them closer.
The movie is divided into chapters, most of which end very abruptly. There are frequently passages of time, sometimes months pass, between chapters. This technique allows for a longer story arc than would be easily achieved in a more continuous type of narrative style. This is a character-driven narrative and there is a considerable amount of character development in both Matthew and Danny during this story.
This might be Sandler's best acting performance to date, although he has drawn some past praise for a few of his more dramatic roles. Stiller, Marvel and Van Patten also give strong performances in this film. I particularly liked the way that Van Patten and Sandler interacted in some musical segments. Overall, this is essentially a light comedy, despite some dramatic overtones. It is a rich exploration of human nature and family dynamics. This film rates a B+.
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