STARRING: Adam Sandler, Grace Van Patten, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson & Dustin Hoffman.
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Noah Baumbach
In Noah Baumbach’s previous movie, While We’re Young, there was a focus on the older generation moving with technology while the young and hip focused on older innovations like vinyl and VHS. Now, as he approaches fifty, Baumbach’s latest movie is being released onto Netflix with only a handful of token cinemas getting to show this latest Netflix original movie.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a tale of 3 parts as we meet Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew, played by regular Baumbach collaborator Ben Stiller, who are reunited with their father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a man bitter that his art career has never received the plaudits he feels he deserved, as his health starts to fail him. Touching on a similar theme to Baumbach’s breakout movie, The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories looks at Jewish-American children of a divorce in New York and where we find them in their later lives.
In the first part, we are introduced to Danny, a man broken by divorce, his crumbling hip and a failed career, who has been a stay at home dad and is now under threat of losing his daughter to college. It’s impossible for Danny not to see his father in himself. For many Sandler’s last great work was Punch Drunk Love with Paul Thomas Anderson. Reuniting with another arthouse director brings out the best in Sandler and finally we get a Netflix movie from him that’s worth the subscription fees.
Dustin Hoffman’s Harold, brilliantly described by Matthew as, “if Dad’s not a brilliant artist then he was just a prick”, is coursing with a self-obsessed interest and bitterness to any success of those around him, having any sort of conversation with Matthew is just one way. That bitterness and rage has been handed down to Danny, who explodes over parking spaces and minor issues. Hoffman fills the role of Harold with so many touches that make him a fully rounded failure; the man can sit in a seat barely moving or expressing a thought yet you can see his brain ticking over all the slights and injustices as they simmer away inside.
In the second part, we meet Ben Stiller’s Matthew, someone who escaped the family by heading out to Los Angeles but has returned home to oversee the sale of he family home. Sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) has also largely escaped the dysfunctional home by staying on the outskirts of the madness. Jean doesn’t steal the show like the three male leads but she is often the fuel for some of the best comedy moments in the movie.
Speaking of, it’s fair to say that Baumbach delivers a great many comedy set pieces that are as well drilled, staged and prepared as any Hollywood action scene. This doesn’t quite put it in the top tier of Baumbach movies but in fairness he’s set the bar high with the standard that he’s created for himself. It’s not got the energy that Greta Gerwig brought to Frances Ha and Mistress America in movies she co-wrote with Baumbach. The Squid and the Whale that this shares a theme with was much sharper and while this focuses on fixing the bleeding wound of family resentment and divorce, The Squid and the Whale was so raw that it was impossible to pull yourself away from it.
It’s a shame The Meyerowitz Stories won’t be more widely seen in cinemas as the comedy and performances would lend themselves so well to being watched with a crowd. However, like many Baumbach movies, they are often found and appreciated on home video and now Netflix, where much of his back catalogue can now be found, a place where it therefore seems fitting to enjoy his latest.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is now streaming on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the movie.