2017 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten, Emma Thompson | directed by Noah Baumbach | 1hr 58mins |
Studio Pitch: A dysfunctional family movie, Noah Baumbach-style.
Noah Baumbach movies have been pure pleasure for me ever since I discovered the filmmaker’s lyrical, theatrical dialog, funny, self-indulgent characters and fully realized New York metropolitan universe. Like the love child of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen, Baumbach takes what would be self-indulgent and clueless in the hands of, say, Lena Dunham and spins it into luscious character dramas with sparking dialog and real relationships. Normally.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is another trip to the Upper West Side (or East Side, who knows?) where quirky characters’ lives revolve around making art, going to power lunches in tiny New York restaurants and getting into esoteric conversations at parties about their place in the world. Where frequent collaborator Greta Gerwig went off to make her own story of mothers and daughters with Lady Bird, Baumbach strikes out with a story about fathers and sons. Meyerowitz tells the story of a family that is a legend and a trauma in their own minds, revolving around the patriarchal figure and celebrated local sculptor, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman, the highlight of the movie) as seen through the eyes of his three children – down on his luck Danny (Adam Sandler), high powered LA accountant Matthew (Baumbach regular Ben Stiller) and dotting but forgotten Jean (Elizabeth Marvel, looking like she stepped right out of The Royal Tennenbaums).
Meyerowitz starts out really delightful, just like any other Baumbach film. It draws it’s characters and then forces them together for some good cozy chamber film conversation. We’ve even got Adam Sandler giving a solid dramatic performance and a few pretty funny scenes early on where Harold mistakenly makes them go black tie at a gallery or forces Matthew to chase after a jacket thief at a restaurant. Hoffman plays Herold with that perfect mix of arrogance and fragility, unyielding in whatever he wants and manipulating his sons by talking them up, but only to the other son when they aren’t around. It isn’t really that the film sours over time, it eventually starts to meander around so much that I was able to wipe off the rose-colored glasses and see it for what it is.
Almost nothing here is new, nor is it executed in a fresh way. It becomes completely overwhelmed with lazy dysfunctional family archetypes usually used in bigger, broader, studio films. We get Sandler and Stiller coming to a head over who their dad treated better. As brothers in these movies tend to do, they get in a fight and roll around in the grass in public, but then have to go make a big speech. But don’t worry because they’ll bond again over a common enemy and get some childish revenge together that makes them feel like kids again. The movie stops dead for a full blown Tennenbaums style bit of actual darkness and child abuse and the said patriarchal figure’s health is put in question drawing the family together. Jesus Christ drop a Marvin Gaye song on the soundtrack and it becomes a Gary Marshall movie. Adam Sandler isn’t even that good. He’s just not aggressively obnoxious.
Flashes of Baumbach’s usually great dialog are all over this movie, but none of it rises to the shining verbiage of Mistress America, Frances Ha or even half-speed Baumbach of While We’re Young. It marches right into the brick wall of a story that doesn’t observe anything that hasn’t been observed a hundred times before in other “dysfunctional family” movies or better by Baumbach himself. It starts promising, settles into a familiar indie quirk mode and then becomes a trying slog – eventually loosing narrative momentum entirely and giving way to fading in and out on a series of endless epilogues.
Baumbach goes through the motions here, almost as if this was a director-for-hire gig, dispassionately reheating these old bits to the point where it almost feels insulting when played out by characters so pompously concerned with art and squabbles. It’s the obnoxious New York mumblecore movie without the wit and sparkling performances that Baumbach usually brings to elevate the proceedings. The Meyerowitz Stories has it’s moments, but overall lacks all the identifiable marks that make Noah Baumbach movies so unique and entertaining.