REVIEW: Noah Baumbach’s ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’


One of the hardest things to learn growing up is that your parents—the heroic adults who seem to know everything, the center of your entire universe—are just flawed, regular people. For Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel), that realization came to them at far too young an age. In The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), the trio is forced to contend with the effects of their strong-willed artist father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman in a tour de force performance), unpacking his many missteps in parenting and humanity.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha), The Meyerowitz Stories offers a unique and quirky take on family dysfunction, showing what happens when children are raised and sort of ignored by a respected (enough) artist whose legacy never quite justified their neglect. As adults, Danny, Matthew and Jean seem like fragments of a whole, with each sibling having his or her own issues. Danny is in the middle of a separation and begrudgingly moves in with his dad once his daughter leaves for college. Jean seemingly can’t pull away from her father and siblings, choosing to stay on as a caregiver after a disturbing secret is revealed (because “it’s the right thing to do”). Danny and Jean, together, hold mild resentment over Matthew, their half brother; he’s far more successful than either of them, and being the youngest, he was able to avoid a lot of the mistreatment they suffered, taking advantage of a Harold that learned to right his wrongs by child number three. That said, Matthew still didn’t escape childhood unscathed.

Harold isn’t a surface-level abuser, but his narcissism compels him to disregard the feelings of everyone around him. According to him, he’s a legend, the type that won’t fail to remind you of that time and time again. While Harold appears open, he’s the kind of one-way communicator that’s incredibly frustrating; he never listens to his children, preventing any of them from truly connecting with him. Hoffman nails these gray areas, from Harold’s passive-aggressive attitude toward his more successful contemporaries, to his biting insults and short temper in public. As spectators, we’re amused by Harold’s faults (some of them, at least). Hoffman is so good that we feel his charm and are endeared to the character regardless of how ineffable his actions get. While the film doesn’t completely vilify the salty man, it outlines the fact that Harold is funny and quippy to us mostly because he’s not our problem. But that’s what gives the movie its legs. It’s hard to think of another role, at least recently, where Hoffman is having this much fun, and that’s thanks in part to Baumbach and his script.

Surprisingly, Sandler and Stiller hold their own. While Stiller’s indignation is nothing new, it befits Matthew’s role as the younger, luckier sibling whose struggles remained more private and internal. Sandler’s performance is refreshing. Danny is a great father with a close relationship with his college-bound daughter. He’s a patient, understanding man whose frustrations in life come out in sudden, unexpected ways (plus, seeing Sandler lose his marbles is always a hoot). Sandler does great work here, avoiding the caricature of himself and honing in on the heart and history of his character. It’s hands down his best performance since 2002’s Punch Drunk Love.

Families and the accompanying emotions are complicated to say the least. Processing resentment, abuse, or neglect can be a lifelong struggle that carries far into adulthood. Danny, Jean, and Matthew are prime examples of that, all three employing their own methods of survival. While Baumbach’s script doesn’t completely wallow in this heavy terrain, the Meyerowitz’s story is still a poignant, bittersweet tale about feeling and dealing while trying to move forward. Grade: B+

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