Cert: 15 Runtime: 112 mins Director: Noah Baumbach Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten and Emma Thompson
You should see the other dog
Noah Baumbach has transferred over to Netflix, a sentence that I never expected to read. It does sadden me when great directors create cinema for the small screen. Netflix and Amazon are attracting big names and it’s something we have to deal with. The Meyerowitz Stories is Baumbach’s latest with a stellar cast and great reviews from Cannes Film Festival it needed to be watched. So what is it all about? To suggest that sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is a model father would be pushing it. His adult children, like his artistic career, have not exactly met his expectations, but he has succeeded in selling them a rather delusional version of his own achievements. His eldest Danny (Adam Sandler) is schlumping through life, still noodling original compositions on the family piano while his daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) seems to have made a singular profession of receding into the background. Only Matthew (Ben Stiller), a high-octane West Coast money-man has acquired the trappings of success, but not the kind favoured by Harold and his booze-addled bohemian fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson). It’s dysfunction as usual until a swift blow to the head puts Harold in hospital and everyone has to take stock
Those that like their indie quirk of Baumbach’s previous back catalogue will lap up every minute of Stories as we’re introduced to the world of Meyerowitz’s. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Harold, a father who during much of his life valued his work over spending time with his children. Ben Stiller could play this role in his sleep but he does it as good as anyone. Elizabeth Marvel and Emma Thompson both do well with somewhat limited screen time. The real revelation here is Adam Sandler! Danny is dealing with both a divorce, the loss of his daughter Eliza to college life and most poignantly a fragile relationship with his father and while we’ve seen Sandler impress on screen before in the likes of Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, Danny Meyerowitz provides the long struggling comedian with what feels like his best lead role yet. Tasked with some scenes of genuine pent-up emotion and dramatic outbursts, Sandler is fabulously entertaining here and it’s not out of the question to think that the oft-ridiculed actor might see his name appear in end of year awards recognition.
The writing of the build-up lets a few expository dialogues slip but the acting is so competent that you felt riveted by the simple exchanges going on. Of course, there’s some déjà-vu feelings, mainly the eccentric, intellectual, Jewish, artistic upper class of New York, but just when you try to spot some Woody Allen or Coen Brother or Wes Anderson patterns, the film finds a captivating way to reinvent himself and go for another direction. It’s as unpredictable as life, if I might be allowed one cliché. For me, there is never really seemed to have a moment that takes the film to the next level. Granted, this was still better than Baumbach’s previous disaster of a narrative in “Mistress America,” but he is still chasing films like his lauded “Kicking and Screaming” and “The Squid and the Whale”. The last act drags a bit too long, and things could have been tied up together more quickly. Indeed, when there’s such a powerful climax, you don’t need fifteen more minutes. A very intricate fam-dram, but not everyone’s cup of tea.