It begins with Danny (played by Sandler in, I kid you not, his best performance ever), a father who's recently separated from his wife and struggles with his daughter (Grace Van Patten) leaving for college at Bard University. He's now jobless and stuck with his father Harold (Dustin Hoffman), an artist who never quite received the attention his work was deserving of, but has laid all of his shortcomings on those around him, which may be why he's on his fourth wife, a surly hipster named Maureen (Emma Thompson). Rounding out the group of dysfunction is younger, more successful, half-brother Matthew (Stiller) and sadly forgotten sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).
When it comes to director Noah Baumbach, his greatest successes work when his writing is in tip-top shape, which seems to be always. His films hit a high and low point with his discovery of Greta Gerwig, whose Frances Ha was a beautiful ode to lost-twenty-somethings, but seemed to ramble on with Mistress America. With The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach's work is exceptional, going to his dramatic bread and butter, as he did in The Squid and the Whale or Margot at the Wedding, dealing with the family dynamic that everyone can relate to, and we all want to escape from. Baumbach's writing & direction is often expertly paced, with superb blocking, and character creation. Each person in this movie is someone we all know.
The stories are divided by title cards, with Danny's struggle stemming from a lack of connection with his father at a young age, plus Harold's massive amount of disrespect to him. The introduction of Matthew, who moved to LA to keep his distance, is equally uncomfortable, where his father feels threatened by all his success, and the only thing that lures him back to New York is the expectation of the family estate. Quietly on the side is sister Jean, who may not be given much to do or say, but trust me, she's one of the films many great parts. Later, when Harold bumps his head on a walk with his new dog, it leaves him in the hospital in a coma. This brings the family together, forced to confront one another about matters that should have been resolved years ago. All problems are in need of a good psych evaluation and seem to stem from one thing: Harold.
The praise I have for the cast of The Meyerowitz Stories is endless. I could applaud each of them at any moment, but I must start with Sandler. His performance is scary good. Yes, the man who brought us the painful Sandy Wexler earlier this year, is worthy of high praise, even award-worthy acclaim. Then there is Stiller whose work continues to blossom with age and Dustin Hoffman who reminds everyone why he's one of the legends. The collected cast is worthy of a best ensemble SAG Award.
All of this proves that The Meyerowitz Stories is Noah Baumbach at the top of his game. The films only flaw is that it can be a bit exhausting, but the director channels relatable works such as The Royal Tenenbaums or the family dynamics of Alexander Payne's Nebraska. It's the kind of movie that makes you thankful for the family you have or reminds you of how almost all families are sadly, all alike.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES
STARRING: BEN STILLER; ADAM SANDLER; DUSTIN HOFFMAN; EMMA THOMPSON
DIRECTED BY: NOAH BAUMBACH
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
A noticeable trend in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is how consistent the characters often talk at each other, talk at the same time, and rarely listen. In Noah Baumbach's newest entry about family disfunction, he seems intent on leaving us with the important message that family matters, but we sadly didn't get to pick our family. An all-star cast of Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, and Emma Thompson round up the entire Meyerowitz clan, filled with characters that are artists, neurotic, talented, complicated people. This may not be Baumbach's greatest film, but The Meyerowitz Stories is one of his strongest pieces of work, top to bottom.