By: Paris Wong
One of my pet peeves in films and shows is when familial relationships, much less sibling ones, are portrayed as if everyone is unerringly considerate and not a day goes by that they don’t get along.
Noah Baumbach’s ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’ definitely dispelled any worries I had of that happening.
Split into several chapters, the Netflix film follows the Meyerowitz family — namely the adult children of Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a retired artist and professor — as they reunite to honor their father at his art retrospective. Sounds simple enough, right? The story itself is, but soon threads begin to unravel and it becomes abundantly clear that Harold Meyerowitz has always been a little lacking as a father, and the effects have lived on in his children and their own.
As the movie progresses, the siblings’ lives only become wilder and more outlandish in ways that, oddly enough, often seem to reflect real life — and yet can seem so off-the-wall and unbelievable onscreen. The performances help bring it back, however, striking a perfect balance between drama and comedy that is too often too difficult to find. Neglected brother and sister Danny (Adam Sandler) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) are foils to their half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller), who was relentlessly doted upon by their father, but their dynamics (which are as turbulent as you might think) are never made out to be something campy or necessarily predictable. They live and breathe and sleep; they’re real.
A quick aside: I don’t see many Adam Sandler movies, nor do I especially go out of my way to — but his character was my favorite of the whole film. The story plays to his comedic strengths, but it’s drama that he, surprisingly, does wonderfully well. I honestly wasn’t expecting him to resonate as much as he did, but it’s clear to see why his character’s story was the one the movie started and ended with (indirectly, anyway). So much of the story’s heart is down to his performance, along with Marvel’s dry wit (who we definitely could have used more of) and Stiller’s shenanigans.
As a whole, ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ could almost be written off as a slice-of-life type of movie (reminiscent of Shawn Levy’s ‘This Is Where I Leave You,’ starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey), but with its own special brand of quirky humor, it becomes more. It’s funny, but the jokes aren’t overdone. You chuckle as if you were hearing these jokes for the first time in your own life, with your own family. You tear up unexpectedly when life strikes out and sweeps you off your feet. You cringe at the awkwardness. You cheer at the triumphs.
If nothing else, it’s an interesting insight into a family driven apart and brought together again by art of all forms, be that music, film or sculpture — something that’s fascinating for an outsider to see exactly what each character’s take on that actually is.
Personally, I always felt that art went beyond what I could understand until I realized it’s just about how it makes you feel and what meaning you assign to it. The choices director Noah Baumbach made with the music and the cinematography and the script, perhaps even the film’s entire aesthetic, come together to create this work of art that can potentially mean so many things and move so many people with all different experiences and backgrounds.
If you have siblings, you probably know what it is to fight with them, and if you have parents, whether they’re overbearing or a little more laid-back, both of those realities are given to us here. No matter who you are, family (or lack thereof) molds you like clay into who you are, and what you do with that shape is up to you — but just like art, everyone gets a chance to feel something.
‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ is…