BFI London Film Festival: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten and Emma Thompson
Screening at LFF October 6th, 7th, 12th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

Well written and wonderfully cast, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) will perpetuate comparisons of the director to Woody Allen. But where Allen focuses his neuroses on romantic stories, Baumbach tends to channel his into the question of identity, and in the case of The Meyerowitz Stories – family dynamics’ role in defining who we are.

The film is the story of the Meyerowitz family, centered around patriarch Howard (Dustin Hoffman) and his relationship with his children, specifically his two sons – the half brothers Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller). Matthew was always Howard’s favourite, being the only child to have been raised by him in the family home. As the son from Howard’s second marriage, Matthew was Howard’s attempt at reparations for neglecting Danny and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), both a product of his first marriage. With daddy issues and disappointments galore, circumstances brings the family together as adults; to hash out their relationships, make amends for their regrets, and to find closure in being the family that they are.

The ensemble cast working with Baumbach’s script is what makes The Meyerowitz Stories shine. Dustin Hoffman has a field day as Howard, giving a very multi-layered performance, bringing every aspect of Howard’s personality to life – often with a very solid sense of humour. Ben Stiller has done his fair share of dramatic acting by now, but with one scene in particular demonstrates the depths to which he can go. Adam Sandler is very good, reminding us all that he can actually act given the right material. He’s so good as Danny, that it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think he could get an Oscar for this.

The women in the Meyerowitz family have far less to do. Danny and Matthew’s sister Jean is a very interesting character with much of her own story lurking under the surface, but is only used to prop up her brothers’ story. Danny’s daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) is also used merely to reveal more of Danny’s issues, rather than to exist in her own right. Candice Bergen, however, in only one scene as Matthew’s mother has a more profound impact on the story’s themes than all of the other women put together – as she laments on her past mistakes, apologizing for how she treated Danny and Jean all of those years ago. Not even Emma Thompson as Howard’s wife leaves as much of a mark on the film.

Stylistically, the film is unnecessarily unconventional, dividing the stories into titled segments. The story flows quite naturally and doesn’t actually need these divisions, especially as some of the titles are misleading. For example, when we get to “Jean’s Story” it’s really once again about her brothers and how they respond to her drama. Scenes are also abruptly edited at the height of their drama, which is obviously for comedic effect, but tends to lose its appeal after the first couple of runs.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is possibly the most sophisticated Netflix Original to grace our screens to date. A fantastic ensemble cast and script make this family dynamic a glorious thing to watch unfold. The themes of identity, regret and making amends work wonderfully to fuel the story, with a star turn from Adam Sandler. You might even appreciate your own family more after watching this one.

Leave a Reply