Noah Baumbach is an American writer/director with a knack for witty dramas, usually loaded with amazing characters and a driven emotional content. These are the cases of The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Frances Ha, and Mistress America, irresistible highlights of an admirable filmography.
His new film, The Meyerowitz Stories showcases a brilliant cast with Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson in the main roles and depicts with ups and downs the gathering of an estranged, dysfunctional family that has the elderly patriarch as a model.
“…depicts with ups and downs the gathering of an estranged, dysfunctional family that has the elderly patriarch as a model.”
Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) is a retired art professor and established sculptor whose work is frequently exhibited at MoMA and Whitney Museum. However, like most of the artists, he seems never satisfied with what he achieves and shows signs of pickiness, selfishness, and petulance in several details related to his life, past and present.
Harold lives with his third wife, Maureen (Thompson), a gem of a person but also an incorrigible alcoholic. Suddenly, their house is invaded by the arrival of Harold’s son, Danny (Sandler), an uninspired, jobless loafer who could have been a great pianist and just feels disoriented after separating from his wife. He and his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), whom nobody pays much attention to, were always the ugly ducklings of the family. All the attention went to their half-brother, Matthew (Stiller), a successful accountant in L.A., who still bears a little grudge against his father due to past issues. Notwithstanding, he’s peremptory when affirming: “I don’t get angry anymore. Now it’s kind of funny to be with him because I have my own business, a wonderful kid, and I live three thousand miles away from him.”
Everyone in the family deals with an unexpected shake-up when Harold has to be transported to the hospital with a chronicle hematoma in his head. This mishap coincides with a group show at the Bard College, where his most famous piece, wryly entitled ‘Matthew’, is one of the attractions. There, his sons take the opportunity to talk publicly, yet, instead of focusing on their father or his work, they open up about themselves and how they feel as his sons, good and bad. While Baumbach devises this scene with a purposely increase of dramatization, the scene that precedes it, a brothers’ fight, feels nonsensically overstaged.
“Baumbach set the dialogues with interesting lines and the pretentiousness of the artistic milieu is perfectly calibrated.”
The humorous side relies solely on Danny’s daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), an unflinching self-starter and talented videographer whose artistic work exhibits a very naughty sexual content.
Baumbach set the dialogues with interesting lines and the pretentiousness of the artistic milieu is perfectly calibrated. Even without digging too much, it’s easy for us to find humanity and even warm-heartedness among the family members, regardless the emotional instability that follows them like shadows. Although lacking the habitual attractive charm and magic spell that made Baumbach a treasure of the contemporary American cinema, Meyerowitz Stories is perfectly good to watch, demonstrating a genuine keenness to amuse.
The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, and Grace Van Patten.
6 out of 10