Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace van Patten, Judd Hirsch
Director: Noah Baumbach
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Rating: Unrated, But It Would Probably Be (a Soft) R for Intrafamily Yelling and Artistic Nudity
Release Date: October 13, 2017 (Limited Theatrically and Streaming on Netflix)
It’s tempting to say that The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Noah Baumbach’s version of an Adam Sandler comedy. That’s a good starting point, though it isn’t exactly right. It is most accurate to say that Baumbach happened to write a character that just happened to perfectly align with Sandler’s sensibilities. The same can also be said to a certain degree for Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller, two of the other Meyerowitzes with distinct styles, but it is Sandler’s shtick that leaves the most telling impression. This film could hardly be mistaken for a Happy Madison production, but it is a sort of cinematic half-sibling.
Hoffman is Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor and retired art professor whose lack of greater commercial success is constantly referenced and bemoaned. His adult children Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Stiller) are all sorts of messed up. Danny and Jean are still recovering from all the time they didn’t have with their dad while growing up after he divorced their mother, while their half-sibling Matthew is still recovering from all the time that he did spend with Dad.
Each Meyerowtiz actor is aces in pulling off their own unique form of neuroticism, but this is primarily Sandler’s forte. It plays into his pet interests of fraught but tender father-son relationships and lovable man-children. Danny is probably talented enough to have been a professional musician, but instead he is terminally unemployed, though he occasionally crafts goofy piano-based tunes with his teenage daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten). But this is not really a matter of arrested development, as Danny tracks as a genuine adult, just one who never had to accept professional responsibility, especially because he could still manage to be a great father while retaining a childlike disposition. And I haven’t even mentioned all the moments of that patented Sandler yelling put to good use. In fact, the film opens with Danny and Eliza attempting to find a parking spot in Manhattan, a premiere situation for Sandler frustration if ever there was one.
The main narrative thrust involves the Meyerowitz siblings dealing with Harold’s extended critical hospital stay. Considering all the tension in these relationships, this could be a recipe for disaster. And while a few scuffles do break out, Danny, Jean, and Matthew instead mostly bond over their shared screwed-up natures and resolve to embrace forgiveness and gratitude. Plus, they also all get to gather around and watch Eliza’s work as a film student at Bard College, which consists of the surreal sexcapades of “Pagina Man.” It features a fair bit more nudity than you might think an 18-year-old would be comfortable sharing with her family, but despite any discomfort, they all agree she has talent. And since she comes from a family that is so naturally entertaining, how could she not?
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Recommended If You Like: Noah Baumbach’s New York, Big Daddy, Goofy student films
Grade: 4 out of 5 Ex-Wives