Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten, Elizabeth Marvel
An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father. (Source: IMDb)
The words Adam Sandler and Netflix, are enough to instil fear in even the most hardened of film fans, or at least based on his two recent ‘Happy Madison’ produced offerings, The Ridiculous 6 (2015), and The Do-Over (2016). Mercifully, The Meyerowitz Stories doesn’t fall under this same category despite it being a Netflix production and starring Sandler, and wait for it, Sandler is actually really great in this movie.
This won’t be the biggest surprise to fans of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, in which Sandler gave inarguably a career best performance. Seemingly in the hands of a good director, and with absolutely zero input in the creative decisions in a film, Sandler is capable of delivering a great performance and he absolutely does that in The Meyerowitz Stories as Danny Meyerowitz. Similarly, Ben Stiller, resigned to voice work, a slew of Night at the Museum movies, and the impossibly terrible Zoolander 2, is on really great form also as Danny’s brother Matthew, giving his best performance in recent memory.
Indeed the cast is so much of what makes this film so watchable, but it also has a remarkable “lived in” quality. Despite hugely recognisable talent on screen, the characters feel well-rounded, exceptionally well developed, and their interactions feel genuine and honest. The Meyerowitz family may be fractured and complex, and the very definition of dysfunctional, but there is a natural rapport which feels incredibly organic. The dialogue is sparkling and despite its often dry and acerbic tone, it is equally never devoid of charm and genuine warmth. The conversations are charmingly anecdotal, with repeated phrases and stories further emphasising the closeness of the family unit, despite their flaws; we never do find out about “the other dog”, but the constant callback to this seemingly inconsequential event is endlessly endearing.
Dustin Hoffman is on magnificent form, and as the only constant in the family, with its revolving door of ex-wives, children and step children, the fractures of the family are gradually and pleasingly resolved as the film progresses. The unity of the siblings – played by Sandler, Stiller and the wonderful Elizabeth Marvel – becomes more and more evident, and as they begin to display more of their father’s characteristics and traits, the dynamic changes.
Both loveable and frustrating in equal measure, Hoffman pitches the character of Harold perfectly, and we as the audience are deliberately provoked to feel the same way about him as his estranged children do. Emma Thompson is never not amazing and she is delightfully ditzy as Harold’s latest wife, Maureen.
Feeling somewhat out of place, the hilariously explicit student films of Danny’s daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) are not only a wonderfully surreal diversion, but an important parallel to grandfather Harold’s creative output as a sculptor. The theme of art, both its creation and meaning is a subtle theme running throughout the film, and this also ties into the idea of legacy; both of the art created, and the artists creating them. This further adds to the familial dynamic, the passing down of creative talents, and that sense of leaving something behind when you’re gone, and its execution is so subtly and brilliantly weaved throughout the plot.
There’s not much to dislike about this film really; it is undeniably charming and the fantastic cast and wonderful performances mean it is consistently watchable. It is near-on impossible to restore the credibility of Sandler after some of his output of the last few years, but this is at least a step in the right direction; more of this please!