- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Danny has just sent his daughter off to college; his own musical career never went far, but he believes in his offspring’s talent. Jean has an office job, although she tries to break out of her reality by making funny birthday videos for her coworkers. Matthew works in personal finance away from New York – he’s perceived by the rest of the family as the only one of them who actually “made it”. What connects those three different characters? They’re connected by their father, a sculptor Harold; all of them are half-siblings who try to work out the relationship with each other as well as their father’s influence on their own choices when they reunite for the showcase of his works.
If there’s someone who employs Chekhov’s storytelling rule incredibly well these days, it needs to be Baumbach. The Meyerowitz Stories employs the structure known from his previous work: we spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, sifting their worldviews through their interactions, and watching how they present themselves when they hang out. All the smaller events, however, lead to a powerful climax – and even if the sense of humour is much warmer and subtler than in While We’re Young or Mistress America, criticising less and trying to understand the different personalities instead, it serves us a hilarious yet endearing film. The environment – the intelligentsia, a house filled with artistic personalities – also has a strong impact on how the film and its humour is shaped, which ultimately makes it easy to compare to Woody Allen’s comedy.
This family saga, which is indeed separated into a couple of smaller “chapters”, finds a lot of its charm in the conversational prompts that it throws on us. What does it mean to be successful? Is it recognition, being able to make ends meet, or doing what you love? Are we bound to become our parents one day, and how their lives impact us? The film paints also an incredibly vivid picture of sibling relationships. Baumbach pits Matthew and Danny against each other: they’re two completely different people, and they’re stuck with each other when the crisis hits, so they’re forced to figure it out. A lot of their grudges is underpinned by the lack of communication and misunderstandings that kept on piling on each other for years, which asks us another question regarding the importance of honesty.
Later, when the siblings have their profiles showcased alongside their father’s, they understand the influence he had on their life and manage to let go of the past, which often troubled their relationships with each other as much as their interactions with others, dreams and plans. That, on the other hand, allows us to look at parenthood as we engage in the story: Danny has a daughter and prides himself in being her best friend, Matthew has a son and raising him isn’t always the easiest task. The central figure of Howard, however, with his massive impact on his kids’ life choices, provides another chance for comparison as all of his children get to understand the complicated nature of their feelings towards their father.
The director assembled a cast to boast about: Dustin Hoffman as the head of the family is joined by Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. There’s also a couple of cameos: one of them features Adam Driver who cooperated with Baumbach (and Stiller) before on While We’re Young, and the other one becomes a heart of the joke afterwards. All of them are strongly drawn and intriguing, and the multitude of conversations and the strangest of situations that we get to observe make us a part of the family.
Dustin Hoffman highlights Howard’s messy artist with his head in the clouds and massive influence over his children’s lives, which he knows of, explores and exploits. Ben Stiller as Matthew gives us a fantastic performance that gets to shine in the final act with an intense speech. And if you were ever doubtful about Adam Sandler and have notoriously avoided watching his films on Netflix (which the audiences of the subscription service spent 500 million hours watching, by the way), you need to drop your prejudice right now. The actor gets a shot at creating a humorous, quirky character with a cleverly sketched personality – and undoubtedly has a lot of fun bringing Danny to life.
Filled with heartening humour and clever explorations of characters that differ on the surface but share a lot when it comes to their inner struggles, Baumbach’s newest is an entertaining family portrait which explores various themes successfully, tying them together with humour and observant eye. It also creates a springboard for the fantastic cast to shine with unexpected surprises along the way – if you’re gonna watch only one Adam Sandler film, make it The Meyerowitz Stories.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) was showcased as a part of the 61st London Film Festival.