Fitting snugly into Noah Baumbach’s tragicomic oeuvre, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) approaches dysfunctional families with the same intuitive understanding of complex interpersonal dynamics that defined the director’s earlier films. Baumbach invokes King Lear here, as patriarch and over-the-hill artist Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) grapples with mortality and his legacy, while his adult children — Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller), and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) — work through the effect a father’s neglect (in the case of Jean, Danny) and high expectations (Matthew) has had on their lives. The focus here is on generational divisions, but the characters’ compassion overshadows their brooding dissent.
Physical comedy here also connects to a sense of shared physical and emotional fragility, as in one scene of sabotage against an old car; or another of a failed attempt to budge family poodle Bruno from his perch on the couch; and several scenes of the various Meyerowitzes running away from each other, always with an awkward gait. Or as in the opening scene here, in which Danny simply searches for a parking spot, his frustration visibly mounting by the moment. The scene comes to also represent the sense of change that Danny feels all around him, and his inability to control those changes; he argues with his daughter (Grace Van Patten) about a song on the radio that he says he introduced her to (she only remembers discovering it herself), and the pattern of their argument extends to the relationships elsewhere in The Meyerowitz Stories. The most poignant moments in Baumbach’s film involve one character having their sentimentality disillusioned by someone who doesn’t share their attachment. This makes the film bittersweet, but always with sense of balance: the hurt doesn’t go away, but the bonds of family outlast a resentment for mistakes made in the past.
You can currently stream Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) on Netflix.
Published as part of New York Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.