I haven’t always been on board with Netflix’s run of original feature films but amidst a group of entertaining and otherwise mediocre genre efforts, a standout comes by and The Meyerowitz Stories is yet another one of these. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach and starring a frequent collaborator of his in Ben Stiller, he hits once again with yet another comedy-drama about a family broken apart on the count of an artist of some sort having been a part of why everyone is so distanced. While I still believe that Noah Baumbach has yet to top The Squid and the Whale, his work continues to remain charming enough yet still feel meaningful. But Baumbach also seems to carry a great power in drawing empathy from his viewers towards what they see on the screen, and it works wonders once more.
Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel play Matthew, Danny, and Jean Meyerowitz – the children of Dustin Hoffman’s Harold Meyerowitz. All members have been split apart over the years, but are brought back together after an event in New York City is organized in order to commemorate the artwork of Harold Meyerowitz, only leaving the children with the challenge of having to put up with the shadow that the Meyerowitz family name has left on them. Everything sounds so simple, but Noah Baumbach has found himself striking yet another chord with his portrait of family history, unveiling yet another complexity in his ability to empathize with his characters after having already put up with what their name has left on them, as they try to achieve success living ordinary lives.
I can’t say that I’m fully on board with the film’s episodic nature, with having a single segment dedicated to the different family members – but at the same time it also brings into light the sort of impact that Hoffman’s Harold Meyerowitz has left behind on the lives of each of the siblings, all before coming together in full circle in its final moments. I wasn’t always on board, because of the risk that certain segments intrigued me more than the rest, which happened to be the case yet again. Next to his efforts with Greta Gerwig, this doesn’t seem nearly as subversive but it’s the fact that Baumbach still plays everything so simply that acquires a greater resonance.
The best of these segments would be the first, centering around Adam Sandler. If his work with Paul Thomas Anderson through Punch-Drunk Love had shown audiences that he is capable of putting out a great performance, then working with Noah Baumbach might have shown that he just as well may be a great character actor who hides out by sticking to the typical Happy Madison production. Hoffman is as wonderful as he has always been, although it is to be expected as is Ben Stiller, but if I were to speak of moments that seemed to raise an eyebrow, I’m looking at Elizabeth Marvel’s storyline which is brought emphasis from her story being in parentheses. Although she is great to watch in the role, there’s another point to which it almost plays out in a rather cartoonish manner – even if her own story does show what are some of the film’s most heartfelt moments.
Nevertheless, I think that Baumbach’s understanding of family dynamics is enough for even the happiest moments to offer a touch of melancholy then and there. Akin to The Squid and the Whale, it knows when to play everything with its own sense of humour but it also feels incredibly confrontational and results in what soon becomes something genuine. It’s this aspect of Baumbach’s films that shows something far more mature on his own end, especially as his own influences become all the more evident. We have a whole family of people who are broken apart because of the fact that they stuck only with themselves and nothing else, and yet they still try to look for the best in what they have together even with the eventual fight breaking out.
I don’t know if there’s much else that I can really add about The Meyerowitz Stories but I love the idea that we look over the impact a family name’s legacy and what it leaves behind on members of a differing generation. I don’t really know how Noah Baumbach continuously delivers with his portraits of family dynamics. We see they’re dysfunctional as a result of their own egos, yet we still empathize. Perhaps not to the same personal degree that The Squid and the Whale had succeeded, but those hints are present in The Meyerowitz Stories and have brought us something all the more wonderful.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Netflix.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Screenplay by Noah Baumbach
Produced by Scott Rudin, Noah Baumbach, Lila Yacoub, Eli Bush
Starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 112 minutes