The easiest way to approach Noah Baumbach’s latest movie The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) would be to talk about Adam Sandler’s performance. Sure, Sandler’s work is way above average, but it’s hardly news that the low-brow comedian can act. He just chooses not to.
The real headline here should be that the film features Dustin Hoffman’s finest work in nearly two decades. The two-time Oscar winner is Harold Meyerowitz, the patriarch of a balkanized family with an artistic streak. Harold has three kids: Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and Matthew (Ben Stiller). Despite the fact Harold wasn’t a constant presence in their lives, Danny and Jean fuss over him. Alas, their father takes them for granted and seem to care only for Matthew, who lives in the West Coast.
The film is episodic by design, focusing alternatively on a different family member. Outside a considerable level of unhappiness, the Meyerowitzes share the feeling none of them lived up to their potential. Harold, a sculpting teacher, has problems accepting the fact a contemporary of his (Judd Hirsch) racked fame and fortune and he didn’t. Danny finds himself divorced, jobless and nearly fifty. Matthew is successful just on paper, while Jean goes through life unappreciated and lonely.
Location is fundamental for The Meyerowitz Stories. The film attempts to capture the artistic New York, the one slowly fading away due to gentrification. As it’s traditional with Baumbach, the script is impeccably written, and the filmmaker’s ability to capture difficult family dynamics (see The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) is in full display. Their pathos and manias lead to several explosive combinations, without forgetting the underlying affection the characters feel for each other.
Long-standing feuds and petty squabbles often ring true and when they don’t, they are entertaining enough to keep the audience invested. Think of The Meyerowitz Stories as Woody Allen on steroids. Three and a half prairie dogs.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) premieres on Netflix this Friday, October 13th.