Monday, October 02, 2017

“The Meyerowitz Stories” – Movie Review


On the first weekend of The 55th New York Film Festival, I attended the North American Premiere of the new Noah Baumbach comedy-drama, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”, starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman.


As an elderly father nears his final days, will he be able to resolve issues with his adult children – and can they resolve the issues they have with each other? 


In his prime, Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) was once considered an influential sculptor by critics, colleagues and his students alike.  He does not share their opinion of him; focusing on his career, he was not very successful in his personal life.  Harold has married several times with adult offspring from different wives – Danny (Sandler), Matt (Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).  His current wife, Maureen (Emma Thompson), is a bit eccentric, to put it mildly; although she provides Harold with companionship, she’s struggling to stay sober as she feels like something of an outsider in this family. 

Making Harold feeling even more distraught is the fact that one of his contemporaries, L.J. Shapiro (Judd Hirsch), has his own career resurrected when he’s suddenly finding great fame late in life.  Harold attends a showing of Shapiro’s work at a gallery and becomes so resentful, he abruptly leaves, envious and embarrassed.  Meanwhile, he is forced to deal with Danny’s issues; separated from his wife, Danny’s seeing his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) off to college.  A failed musician, Danny is struggling to get by financially and Eliza’s college is yet another burden.

Visiting from California, Matt, a financial advisor, tries to convince Harold to sell his home and move into a less expensive place.  Matt’s half-brother Danny objects because he wants his father to spend his remaining time in a familiar space.  This causes the resentment the half-brothers harbored for decades to come to the forefront.  Sharing a father but coming from different mothers, they felt that they had to compete for Harold’s love and attention.  While the debate over selling the house rages on, Harold is hospitalized due to a brain injury he incurred after a fall.  Not knowing whether or not Harold will pull through, will his three children be able to resolve their outstanding issues with their father?  For that matter, can they put their own differences aside as well?


Baumbach’s latest explores a considerable amount of familiar territory; this is probably good news for his fans and perhaps something of a disappointment for those who are less enthusiastic when it comes to this filmmaker’s body of work.  Not that revisiting themes we’re accustomed to seeing from a director is necessarily a bad thing – as long as it’s done well, at at any rate.  Familial conflict has typically been Baumbach’s métier, so he cannot be blamed for returning to the well, especially if that’s what drives him creatively.  For those familiar with his earlier work, “The Meyerowitz Stories” almost could be considered a sequel to “The Squid And The Whale”.  However, despite the series of interesting tales, its ending is something of a letdown. 

Where “The Meyerowitz Stories” diverges from “The Squid And The Whale” is with its underlying theme on the nature of success.  Success, the movie seems to say, is both personal and subjective; what determines defining something as a success will vary individually, depending on context – it’s all relative.  Harold, despite how others view him, feels he has been unsuccessful.  Danny never followed through on his musical studies, so he believes himself to be a failure.  Matt didn’t pursue a career in the arts, so regardless of his income, thinks he is not a success in his father’s eyes.     

What makes “The Meyerowitz Stories” worth seeing is its stellar cast; this is truly a remarkable ensemble performance all around – and yes, that even includes Adam Sandler.  But while the story centers on the sibling rivalry between Sandler’s character and Stiller’s, the performance worth viewing is that of Dustin Hoffman; his nuanced portrayal as the father shows he’s still got plenty in the tank.  He plays an artist who never really understood how aloof he was with his wives or children and lacks the introspection to acknowledge his behavior.

Following the screening was a question and answer session with the cast, writer/director and composer Randy Newman, who wrote the soundtrack.  Perhaps the most incisive and salient observations about “The Meyerowitz Stories” were made by Hoffman himself, who noted that while the film is heavily stylized, it is so subtle that it can be easy to miss.  He found the pacing of the movie noteworthy given the fact that it clocks in at under two hours although the script was 170 pages.  Another good comment he made was about Newman’s soundtrack; the music is that of Newman solo on the piano, giving a sad and lonely sound appropriate to the characters in the movie.  

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017) on IMDb

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