The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is directed by Noah Baumbach and stars Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler. The plot is described as “An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father” (Source IMDb). Baumbach’s previous films The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Frances Ha and While We’re Young have been very popular and critically acclaimed and his brand of Woody Allen-esque New York comedy combined with a real sense of melancholy has made The Meyerowitz Stories hotly anticipated.
Baumbach’s writing has always been sharp, poignant and extremely witty and this film is no exception. All of the characters are very distinct and relatable. The film seems to play as a spiritual sequel to The Squid and the Whale, with Hoffman in the Jeff Daniels role and Adam Sandler playing a grown up version of Jesse Eisenberg’s doting son. The relationships between fathers and sons are often portrayed in films and most of our most celebrated filmmakers seem to have had difficult relationships with their fathers. Baumbach is no different but in this film he smartly gives the two Meyerowitz sons very different reasons for not getting on with their father.
Hoffman’s character is a sculptor whose career never really took off and subsequently neither of his sons chose a career in the creative arts.
Stiller is the financially successful Matthew, a financial advisor who has tried to stay as far away from New York and his father as possible. His performance in this film is marvellous and he sells both the tragic and comic moments with great aplomb. Couple this role with his superb performances for Baumbach in the past and it seems like Stiller has really found a collaborator who lets him shine.
Dustin Hoffman is impressive as well as the cantankerous and thoughtless Harold. He is the seeming cause of his children’s neuroses but is willingly blind to them. Due to his performances in Rain Man, Tootsie, Midnight Cowboy and more, Hoffman is one of the finest actors in cinema and he is a blast to watch here. His credible brand of absent minded arrogance can be infuriating but also deeply comic.
There are other standout supporting performances. Emma Thompson is a hoot as the Hoffman’s perpetually tipsy new wife and Elizabeth Marvel (a Coen Brother regular) is sympathetic as Jean, Stiller and Sandler’s oft-overlooked sister. Grace Van Patten is luminous as Sandler’s daughter and really feels like one to watch.
Surprisingly the real standout is Sandler. He’s been the butt of many a joke recently but here he is nothing less than awards worthy. Although his performance is not particularly outside of his comfort zone – he still plays a shouty middle aged man with a life crisis – the material he is working with gives him so much more than his usual fare. He has complex and interesting relationships with the people in his life and is more sympathetic and engaging than he has been since Punch Drunk Love.
This film is focused on its male characters. Focusing on one gender seems to be a feature of Baumbach’s work. His favoring of male protagonists can be seen in Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale while he focuses on female protagonists in Frances Ha and Mistress America. The Meyerowitz Stories is resolutely male but his interesting casting of Rebecca Miller, the director of female led, Woody Allen style comedy Maggie’s Plan, suggests he is acknowledging the lack of feminine perspective in this tale.
Overall, The Meyerowitz Stories is a resounding success and is Baumbach’s best work since The Squid and the Whale. Stiller, Hoffman and particularly Adam Sandler are fantastic and the writing is involving and entertaining. This film has depth and humour in spades and deserves to be a hit.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is available to watch on Netflix. Image source: Festival-cannes.com