Noah Baumbach’s strongest film in a decade features Adam Sandler’s greatest performance to date.
Holding a magnifying glass to dysfunctional families is no new territory for filmmaker Noah Baumbach. In 2005 Baumbach received an Oscar-nomination for The Squid and the Whale, a film that examined the effects of a failed marriage on two children. His follow-up, Margot at the Wedding, starred Nicole Kidman as a woman who spends a fraught weekend visiting her sister. He would then move away from these familial studies in favor of more quirky fare starring Greta Gerwig. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) marks Baumbach return to the family dramedy and his first feature with Netflix.
Dustin Hoffman stars as Harold Meyerowitz, the patriarch of the Jewish family. Divorced from the mothers of his children, Harold now lives with his new wife, the non-Jewish Maureen (Emma Thompson) in a Manhattan apartment. A sculptor, Harold once had a piece bought by the Whitney Museum, yet it now sits concealed in the museum’s massive storage space. Nevertheless, Harold considers himself a great artist. He believes that the community has failed to give him the credit he deserves, taking a smug attitude to anyone that gains the success he so obviously yearns for. Too enveloped in his own neurosis, Harold has failed to build meaningful relationships with his three adult children. The oldest is Danny (Adam Sandler), a currently unemployed father to film student Eliza (Grace Van Patten). Second son Matthew (Ben Stiller) is a successful financial manager based in Los Angeles. The sole daughter is Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), she works for Xerox and remains often ignored by both her family and the film itself. When Harold falls ill, Matthew returns and the three siblings are forced to decide whether they can ever forgive their father for decades of disinterest.
Split into four chapters, The Meyerowitz Stories offers particular attention to Danny, Matthew, and Harold. The continued humor of the first chapter is replaced by a more melancholy tone in the second when it is revealed that Harold may die. Thus prompts the first appearance of Stiller, allowing him to share many moving moments with Sandler. Sandler is undoubtedly remarkable in the film. It seems like it’s been over a decade since Sandler actually put any effort into a role, so his dedication here is both shocking and welcome. Danny’s scenes with his father are particularly affecting. Harold shows a casual indifference towards his son, leaving Danny continually striving to earn some sign of appreciation – some minuscule form of recognition – from his father.
The film works remarkably well as a Jewish story. There are few moments in which the family’s religion is actually mentioned, yet Baumbach perfectly captures the specifically Jewish family dynamics. This is a testament to the strength of Baumbach’s writing. There is even something Philip Roth-esque at play in The Meyerowitz Stories – aside from the title, which could easily swap in with one of Roth’s. It may even be the best Jewish film since A Serious Man.
The Meyerowitz Stories is a tender, hilarious, and often heartbreaking saga of a crumbled family aching to renew their bond. It showcases stunning performances from Sandler, Hoffman, and the criminally underused Elizabeth Marvel. After a series of strong, yet frivolous films, The Meyerowitz Stories is exactly what Baumbach needed to reignite his greatest formula of storytelling.