The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Jacob Richardson | 17/10/2017
Adam Sandler, remarkably, anchors this neurotic, incredibly well-written, directed and acted piece of familial drama.
Generally anchored around Danny (Adam Sandler), a recently separated house husband whose daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) has just moved to college to study film, The Meyerowitz Stories chronicles his relationship with his sculptor father Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Harold, recently retired from his teaching post at Bard, is fed up with the world not giving him the recognition he deserves, and with Danny, his daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and his other son Matthew (Ben Stiller) for not pursuing their artistic talents. As Danny and Jean set about organising a retrospective for their father’s work, all three of the children find themselves in hospital at the side of their father’s bed, arguing with his new wife Maureen (Emma Thompson), doctors, nurses, old artist friends and themselves.
Noah Baumbach, this time directing and writing without his longtime muse and partner Greta Gerwig, constructs an exquisite script that works hard to convey the communication pattern found in family situations. We see innumerable scenes with Matthew and Danny, or either son and their father, speaking over the top of each other, seemingly having two entirely different conversations.
Indeed, much of the film is structured like this, with multiple rapid fire conversations happening at once. It’s fast paced dialogue in place of a fast paced story, as Baumbach once again gives us a meandering plot very loosely defined in a three act structure. But even though the plot is slow, the absolute intensity of the script leaves little room for boredom, and instead you find yourself engrossed in these tremendously written characters.
Hoffman is great as the ever-so-slightly uncaring father; a man for whom artistry, and indeed, the nature of the art industry, is his child, more so than the living breathing ones he bemoans about the state of the art world to on frequent occasions. Stiller is also excellent as his LA-based business owning son, who spends his life managing the money of artists rather than ever becoming one himself. One scene in particular has Stiller break down in a way that will have you staring gobsmacked at the acting talent on screen. It’s a side of his performative abilities that he has been developing in recent years, but never before have we seen him so emotionally affecting than in The Meyerowitz Stories.
The film is dominated, however, by Sandler. His foray back into the world of serious, if comedically serious, performance dominated the headlines surrounding the development of this film, and his understated performance is a joy to behold as much as it is a shadow-casting ever-present in this picture. He falls back on his well-worn persona of a calm man with a deep well of anger simmering under the surface, but here he is utterly convincing as the man for whom the love of his father is the most important thing. Danny has lost his wife, and, in many respects, his child. The only thing left for him is his father and his family, and he struggles to reconcile his failing life with his uncaring father. At the same time, the terrible tragedy that befalls this family also sees his reuniting with his somewhat estranged brother, and while they come to blows at certain points, it is their shared experience, previously unrecognised, in the neglect of their father that reunites them and allows Danny to move on. Sandler is a wonder, bringing utter pathos to a fully-formed character that benefits from playing off the experience of Matthew, creating linkages and differences in their individual paternal arcs that allow us to further understand Danny by watching Matthew, and vice versa.
Sandler, too, benefits from playing off the showier performance of Stiller. Whereas Stiller more obviously gives a performance, Sandler feels so incredibly New Yorkian and so utterly natural that you could almost be forgiven for thinking Baumbach just stuck a camera in a room and filmed a Sandler-doppelganger named Danny. He is a revelation, harkening back to lauded performances of old like his work in Punch Drunk Love, and it is refreshing to see him tackle something so meaty and succeed.
While it’s meandering pace leads to some moments that could have been relinquished, Baumbach crafts a nuanced portrayal of family, the expectations of parents and how these affect their children, and he does it with a cast that all eschew their traditional filmic persona’s to help deliver a story that will have you smiling, crying and laughing throughout.
The Meyerowitz Stories is a tremendous piece of filmmaking complete with beautiful, raw cinematography, incredibly well-written dialogue, and fully-formed characters given life by exquisite acting. This is the sort of Adam Sandler movie Netflix should be making. A far cry from The Ridiculous Six.