The film opens and we see middle-aged dad Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) yelling and cursing to his daughter about not being able to find parking on the street in New York. They talk about how she’s going off to college and they’re going to be seeing her grandfather, but the conversation devolves into another yelling fit about the inability to find parking.
Noah Baumbach’s new film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), follows the life of an aging New York family and their patriarch. It opened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year in May, where it received a standing ovation upon its premiere screening, and was acquired by Netflix for release. It follows the family members of the archetypal New York Meyerowitz family: Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a former professor and small time famous sculptor; Danny, a failed musician and Harold’s son; Matthew (Ben Stiller), a businessman and Danny’s half-brother; Maureen (Emma Thompson), Harold’s fourth wife; and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny’s full sister and Matthew’s half-sister. The film explores their family relationships, particularly pertaining to their father, and examines the stresses and strains of their family that slowly build up and come to a head as the film’s plot progresses.
Noah Baumbach hits it out of the ballpark once again, exceeding his previous work with Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha (2012) and Mistress America (2015). He outshines collaborations with Stiller in Greenberg (2010) and While We’re Young (2014), and produces his best work since The Squid and the Whale (2006) because he refocuses on the complexities of familial dynamics. In all of his films, Baumbach cares about the subtlety and humanity of his characters, making their motivations believable and honest while also making them relatable and actually funny. His scenes never feel awkward, audience members feel comfortable and empathize with what is happening on screen. It’s a unique approach to storytelling that fleshes out the humanity in characters and makes everything quite enjoyable. Baumbach has a way of feeling out the story and being sensitive to the characters and the plot, which make the film satisfying to watch.
The actors are all fantastic too. Adam Sandler gives a surprisingly great performance and his characterization is full of honesty and heart, especially when contrasted with recent work in movies of his like Jack and Jill (2011) and The Ridiculous 6 (2015), two films that can only be described as unwatchable and cringeworthy at best. To see Sandler in what has to be his best role since Punch Drunk Love (2002) is revealing as to what a good director can do to enhance the performance of an actor. Another joy is to watch Emma Thompson as a recovering alcoholic Jewish New Yorker. She is practically unrecognizable in her performance. Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller are also standouts, and Elizabeth Marvel is near perfect with her comedic timing. Even supporting performances by actors like Adam Driver and Judd Hirsch bring a unity and a verisimilitude to the New York artistic sphere that these characters ultimately inhabit.
There were a few trouble spots, however. Some of the scene transition choices seem a little forced towards the end, even though the context of the edit might make sense within what the film is trying to say. Also, one of the emotional climaxes is poorly and awkwardly shot. The scene felt out of place within the film because of how absolutely fantastic every other scene is cinematographically constructed.
These problems, however, were eclipsed by how wonderful the rest of the film was. Every character interaction, every way in which the plot unfolds and every emotional beat is so perfectly timed and incredibly satisfying. The film draws you into the lives of these people and is reminiscent of the earlier works of Woody Allen. It’s that good. I might give this a nine after a second viewing, but for now I’m giving this one an eight out of ten.
By Justin M. Secor