The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - 2017
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a comedy-drama written and directed by Noah Baumbach from one of my favorite movies of 2012, Frances Ha. This movie originally premiered at Cannes and was snagged by Netflix. On paper, this is one of the most star packed casts I have seen this year. The cast is comprised of Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Ben Stiller, Adam Driver, Candice Bergen, Adam Sandler and Grace Van Patten. The story centers around an estranged family that gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.
The direction was solid once again; Baumbach tends to go for a simplistic style but executes it beautifully. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Philomena) was the perfect choice for this film, since he also tends to work a lot on slow moving films that depend on characters having deep and meaningful conversations. I really enjoyed the look of the film as the natural lighting and the use of the mise-en-scène served the story well. Editor Jennifer Lame (Manchester by the Sea) pieced together this story effortlessly, with not a single scene feeling out of place. I particularly enjoyed the use of fade to black towards the end of the film to imply the passing of time. It helps the audience know that the movie is no longer following the day to day events of the family and they are giving us a summary of the events that happened in the aftermath.
Noah Baumbach’s writing style has always intrigued me. He tends to write complex characters that have quirks and attributes that are slightly exaggerated. These exaggerated characteristics in the hands of another writer/director could easily turn into caricatures, but Baumbach balances them with real emotions that explain their actions and quirks. His movies also tend to lean on relatively subdued themes. On the surface, this movie is about an estranged family forced to face all the problems they have bottled down. But when you dig a little deeper you can see multiple themes interwoven throughout. He touches on abandonment issues; suppressed anger and memories; living under the shadow of a successful, self-involved father figure and the need to receive approval from him; and the pursuit of an artist for fame at the cost of his family.
The overall story struck a chord with me. I have a great relationship with my father, yet I’m always fulfilled when I know I made him proud. Watching Dustin Hoffman’s kids, played by Sandler, Marvel and Stiller, constantly trying to gain a sliver of attention or appreciation from him made me uneasy (in a good way). What I really enjoyed about the resolution of the story was their realization of how they can find their happiness despite how their father acts towards them. My favorite arc was Stiller, who was on track to become a version of the neglectful father he has criticized and somewhat hated all his life. When he finally comes to that realization its almost a cathartic moment caught on film.
The performances are solid throughout the entire cast. I was surprised by Adam Sandler, who plays Danny, the son of Dustin Hoffman. His character is a mixture of Hoffman’s as he is artistically inclined but never fully amounted to any success and now lives vicariously through his daughter. His performance can be described as a mixture or Happy from Happy Gilmore and Barry from Punch-Drunk Love. Dustin Hoffman kills it as Harold, the head of this weird and dysfunctional family. It felt as if he pulled from his Rain Man performance, since he is practically always talking to himself, ignoring everyone around him, but it was different enough for me to separate the two in my head. Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel round-out the siblings and they are solid in their roles as they played complex yet simple characters. The one that stood-out in my head (maybe because I had never seen her before) was Grace Van Patten, who plays Mackenzie, daughter to Sandler’s character and aspiring film maker. She was funny and raw, letting her character feel like a real human being, even though she would perfectly fit in a Wes Anderson world.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a beautifully sad, hopeful movie that I personally connected with. My emotional investment in the story could’ve skewed my overall perception of the film, but I still think it’s an incredibly well-made interesting movie that deserves your time. With a great script and good actors to execute it, Netflix found another gem along with Okja, Win it All and I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore. Noah Baumbach’s writing style is why I love movies.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is currently playing on Netflix. No need to hit skip intro.
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