‘The Meyerowitz Stories’: When You Can Choose Family

Rating: 3.5/4

It takes a Meyerowitz to know a Meyerowitz. At least, I think that’s how the saying goes. Noah Baumbach‘s newest examination of family, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) demonstrates the tribulations of this New York clan like a New York Times comic strip.

Baumbach’s film centers on an estranged artistic family headed by a self-involved bitter patriarch, Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Harold is an aging sculptor who has mostly been forgotten, relegated to a poorly carved wooden footnote. Of all the actors of his generation, one could make the case that Hoffman has been the most enduring. Here, it’s the small details that really make his character. His character is often dismissive, coy, and spirited. I don’t think there’s any better actor when it comes to creating a great performance without looking at his fellow co-stars. Harold rarely makes eye-contact with his wife (Played by Emma Thompson), his ex-wife (Played by Candice Bergen), his sons, or his daughter. At times, the performance feels like a mature Rain Man.

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One of his sons, Danny (Adam Sandler), is a failed musician. Danny has dedicated his life to his daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten) rather than reignite his music career. Sandler once again shows why he’s such a frustrating actor. Buried beneath the dross that makes one think he’s a one-trick pony, or sometimes a one-trick ass who one day found out that fart sounds were funny, there is a good actor. This is evident in films, such as 50 First Dates, Funny People, and Punch Drunk Love (By the way, if someone mentions Pixels, I’m punching them in the face…..this is not a veiled reference to PacMan).

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The most touching moments of the film are between him and his daughter Eliza, especially in the first five minutes, when they play a duet on the piano in Harold’s home. Baumbach oscillates between close-ups of their hands as they delicately play the black-and-white keys, and their respective glances of familial affection. As he oscillates between the shots, both Sandler’s and Patten’s voices mix well in a melody that’s very close to I Got You Babe. Toward the end of their singing is a memorable shot, as the camera slowly rotates to a profile close-up of Sandler and Eliza. If The Meyerowitz Stories was a short film, that would have been a perfect ending.

As we progress through the film, we meet Harold’s other son, Matthew (Ben Stiller). A man who’d rather have a cheese grader run up his back than see his father and siblings. He’s possibly the most well-adjusted of the siblings, but he’s someone who—much like his father—has found the whole nurturing department with his son to be in short supply. He’s in sharp contrast to his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), a woman so subliminal you sometimes forget she’s there, which is by design. Of the siblings, she’s probably the kindest. When she sees the man who molested her as a child—now an old man—Matthew and Danny decide to trash his car. It’s Jean who scolds them, telling them that their rage won’t fix her or what happened. In a moment where women have been recounting their experiences with sexual harassment and rape, I’m not entirely sure if this reaction feels right anymore. That is, for the victim to turn the other cheek. This might be a portion of the film that doesn’t age particularly well.

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Everyone in the Meyerowitz family—for most of their lives in fact—has dealt with deep internal issues. Most of them stemming from their father. In truth, Harold is a terrible father and, possibly, a terrible human being. Someone who sees himself so much as a genius, that he has stunted his children’s artistic growth and their ability to have relationships. Jean has no attachments. Danny is divorced, while Matthew is near divorced.

Nevertheless, you can’t choose your parents. And as he is near-death in a comatose state, it is his children who care for him, even as he’s given them little reason to care. In reality, that may be the true miracle of this family. That three siblings have still grown up to be relatively decent people. People who can come to terms with how their relationships with their father have made them who they are.

Indeed, they are all a Meyerowitz, for better, or for worse.

Note, watch out for great cameos from both Adam Driver and Sigourney Weaver.

 

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Photo Credit: Vox.com

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