The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Review
It is not a rare thing to see an Adam Sandler film on Netflix. He has a very lucrative deal with them that both parties are very happy with. But to see Adam Sandler in movie like The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a rarity, and more than that, it is a delightful treat. Read on to see some thoughts on one of Netflix's newest original films. Some minor spoilers will follow.
Noah Baumbach is known for smaller films that deal with quirky characters in semi-relatable situations. This film deals with a highly dysfunctional family. They all can function in the outside world fairly well, but they are dysfunctional with each other and the film is strongest when it focuses on that.
There are many dynamics at play, sibling issues, parental issues, parenting issues, marital issues, step-family issues, you name it, the movie has it. It is not a singular issue that any of the characters have to deal with, but several, and they have to be dealt with at the same time. It makes things more like real life than most films that portray "family issues".
Dustin Hoffman is Harold Meyerowitz, the patriarch of this family who has had 4 marriages and was a "questionable" father to say the least. He has three children (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel) that all come together due to a coincidence and then are forced to stay together after a medical issue lands Harold in the hospital.
Hoffman does well with the role. At first it seemed like he was phoning it in and was devoid of any passion, but it was quite the opposite. Everything Hoffman does on screen was intentional and deliberate, because that's Harold, and he nailed him to a tee. Harold is a man who never got the recognition he feels he deserves, and doesn't quite understand his children's bitterness towards him. He sees the world through a very narrow filter, and any perception that doesn't fit into that filter he will dismiss as nonsense. If you know someone like this, you know how frustrating that can be. Especially if that person is married to someone that no one really understands or likes.
That brings us to Emma Thompson - who plays Hoffman's newest wife. She is an eccentric woman (she refers to Harold as "The Dad") with a bit of a drinking problem. The kids don't know her that well or like her that much. Baumbach does a good job of fleshing her character out a bit so you can sympathize with her, even though her role is minor. The bulk of the story is about the three children and their relationships with everyone.
Elizabeth Marvel plays the sole female sibling, Jean. She's not the main focus between the siblings, but her "part" of the movie is one of the best. The way she was able to portray Jean's struggle and feelings was done extremely well. She has a sweet innocence to her that instantly endears you to her.
Ben Stiller's performance was one of his best. He was asked to do a wide range of emotions and be nuanced doing them - and he pulls it off flawlessly. It was a joy to watch, especially when you know how silly Stiller can be in some of the movies he has done. I would like to see more performances from him like this. More people would be talking about what he did in this movie if it wasn't for Adam Sandler.
Adam Sandler can act. Anyone who has ever seen Punch Drunk Love knows this. But he never seems to want to. He always wants to play the over the top man baby, the stupid lovable oaf, or whatever you want to call what essentially is the same character he's played in every comedy he has done since Big Daddy. But in Meyerowitz he might give the best performance of his career. How does "Academy Award Winner Adam Sandler" sound? Because it could happen. Between him and Ray Romano, hacky comedy actors are having a hell of a career renaissance. It does make things frustrating though, because when you see this and see what Sandler is capable of doing, it makes the other stuff he does do quite aggravating. He is unquestionably the best part of the movie, and the strongest presence in the movie. The story - whether intentionally or not - gravitates and then revolves around him and the film is better for it.
I'd also be remiss not to mention Grace Van Patten who plays Sandler's daughter Eliza and is a big part of Sandler's story arc. She's not just used for that though, she gets her own quite satisfying arc as well. Van Patten is a strong enough presence to close the movie in what is one of the most poignant scenes in the whole film.
As for the film itself, Baumbach uses title cards to focus on each person, and uses quick cuts to carry us to the next scene. Sometimes it is in the middle of a line of dialogue, it's quite jarring, but also effective. It makes it feel like the scenes bleed into each other, almost like someone is channel surfing the family's memories, or they have the novel, and are just skimming it.
The dialogue mirrors the editing style. There are several scenes where certain characters try to talk to each other but end up just talking over each other. They both seem to want to say things but also want the conversation to end as quickly as possible. None of them get anything substantial out of it, because they don't listen, which is the most important part of a conversation.
The Meyerowitz Stories was a unique experience to be sure, and it won't be for everyone. It is a character study about flawed humans and family dynamics. It has no action (sans for one intentionally pathetic fight scene), and unconventional versions of almost everything else you look for in a movie. It might put things about your own family in perspective, or it might make you grateful. It could be neither of those things of course, and you could just enjoy it for all of the passion and wonderful work that went into the acting and directing. Plus there are cameos from Sigourney Weaver and Adam Driver, and if it is good enough for Ellen Ripley and Kylo Ren, then it should be good enough for you.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is now streaming, exclusively on Netflix.