You have to give filmmaker Noah Baumbach credit for knowing what he’s good at and never straying too far. The Squid and the Whale might be his most personal dysfunctional family film to date, but The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is easily his funniest.
With a title that’s a bit of a mouthful, Baumbach creates another dark comedy that may appeal and connect more with New York Jews and art snobs than people in the rural South, but who knows? Maybe having stars like Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman (and Netflix) on board might find a larger audience for Baumbach’s dark humor that may have skipped Greenberg simply due to its title.
Things begin with Sandler’s Danny, eldest son to Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman), who is visiting his father with daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). Harold is a famed sculptor who wishes more people would give him credit for his most recent work, living with his third (or fourth?) wife Maureen, played by an absolutely unrecognizable Emma Thompson. Danny might not have his father’s artistic aspirations, but he certainly has his violent temper, as we see him trying to find a parking spot. Harold had another son, wealthy money manager Matthew (Ben Stiller), and he’s also visiting New York from L.A., in hopes of selling his parent’s home, where Danny was hoping to stay after separating from his own wife. Also visiting is Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny’s half-sister from another one of Harold’s marriages.
What starts out as a simple dysfunctional family get-together turns into something more complex as Baumbach revisits some of his favorite themes of divorce and parental relationships. Danny’s relationship with his daughter also plays a large part in the story, but it’s mostly about how Harold’s adult children try to get along with their half-siblings.
Meyerowitz Stories gifts Baumbach with one of his strongest casts, reuniting with Stiller in a different role than he played in Greenberg and While We’re Young. It’s not like Sandler nor Stiller need to do a lot of heavy lifting for each of their roles, but when they do finally come together in the third chapter, it feels like something we should have seen ages ago.
The structure Baumbach uses is quite fascinating,beginning with Danny’s relationship with his father, switching to Stiller’s Matthew and his own paternal connection, then the third chapter having the entire family interacting as Harold is in a coma. That third chapter ends up being the most interesting of the three as you learn more about each of Walter’s adult children in context with each other. This leads to some of the film’s funniest moments, but also a conflict between Danny and Matthew that’s been a long time coming.
Noticeably absent is the presence of Greta Gerwig, who has been so prominent in Baumbach’s last four movies, even if it’s just as his muse, of sorts. Chances are she was busy directing her fantastix debut Lady Bird, but having that separation from each other has actually allowed for two fine works. (I’m convinced Gerwig directed Eliza’s highly sexual film school projects, though.)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Baumbach’s latest, even if it’s just in Danny’s song about his father, “Myron,” which keeps being reprised at different times to help lighten the mood. Maybe because Baumbach has made so many films using a similar dark comedic tone, it’s made it easier for him to make a movie like this without overthinking things. Having such freedom and such an illustrious cast makes The Meyerowitz Stories one of Baumbach’s best movies so far.
The Meyerowitz Stories premiered at the 52nd New York Film Festival on Oct. 1 and will stream worldwide on Netflix starting Oct. 13.
Running time: 110 minutes
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor