Film Review - The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),
written and directed by Noah Baumbach, is a big hearted tale of a dysfunctional family and features a star-studded cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Emma Thompson.

Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) a once famous sculptor-artist, is a domineering and cantankerous patriarch. He is begrudging in his affection towards his children and prone to egotistical tantrums. Siblings Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and their half-brother Matthew (Stiller) all harbour varying degrees of resentment towards Harold and each other. It soon becomes clear that their various neuroses are a direct result of their father’s self-absorption and negative parenting. His only commitment, it seems, was to his art, and there is some doubt as to whether he was actually ever that great. Harold is on his fourth marriage to Maureen (Emma Thompson). While he rages at the lack of recognition for his work, she copes with his moods by hitting the bottle.

Danny is a musician and house-husband in the process of separating from his wife. He has never pursued a musical career and thinks of himself as a failure. He is keenly aware that his father always appears proudest of Matthew, now a successful wealth manager living in LA, and even named one of his sculptures after him. However, Matthew hates being the object of Harold’s favouritism and has physically removed himself from his father’s orbit. Mousy Jean says little but nurses are own heartache from the past. The only Meyerowitz who appears unscathed is Danny’s daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). She embraces Harold’s reputation in the art world and follows in his footsteps making provocatively erotic films at the college where he once taught.

Reminiscent of Woody Allen’s early films, the family’s various stories are revealed through an engaging series of vignettes. Baumbach’s opening of each chapter with captions, together with the film’s extended title, seem rather redundant, but his attention to detail pays off elsewhere. Status and recognition, or the lack of it, are major themes. In one scene, Danny and Harold turn up at an exhibition opening at MoMA in hired tuxedos while everyone else (including Sigourney Weaver) are dressed casually. In another, Harold ruins lunch out with Matthew because he is driven to paroxysms of rage by a fellow diner’s inconsiderate behaviour. Harold erroneously accuses him of taking his jacket, much to Matthew’s exasperation, and father and son end up going hungry.

Harold is hospitalised and the siblings reunite in New York City. Inevitably, childhood rivalries threaten to fatally rupture an already fragile rapprochement. Baumbach blends humour and pathos to terrific effect. The siblings’ obsession over which nurse will be responsible for Harold’s care is poignant while their farcical response to the end of life counselling that they receive over their dad’s hospital bed is priceless. There are strong performances from all. Hoffman and Thompson, in particular, are a delight. Although less focus is given to Jean’s story, Marvel’s understated performance shines through and there are two memorable cameos from Candice Bergman and Adam Driver.