I absolutely loved The Meyerowitz Stories, but this doesn’t surprise me, as I’m obsessed with all of the movies that writer/director Noah Baumbach has been responsible for, with personal favourites including The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and While We’re Young. He’s an auteur in the truest sense of the word; all of his films look and sound the same, they explore similar thematic ingredients with many of the same actors popping up from effort to effort, and all shot in a low-key but stylish manner that stresses performance over any notion of over-the-top technique. He’s an erudite filmmaker who is likely “too much” for some people. but I don’t care – he’s “just right” for me. And I really respond to his sensibilities as a storyteller. His latest effort is a Royal Tenenbaums-esque (but minus the doll-house artifice) exploration of a dysfunctional family unit, and all of the bizarre relationships that have been formed between a distinct group of people.
It must be a shock to Adam Sandler’s system to actually be starring in a film of serious artistic merit, and as usual, when he’s asked to get dramatic (as he was in Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Funny People, and Men, Women, and Children), he’s absolutely fantastic, and further reduces those toxic studio comedies to a pile of nothing-nonsense. The repressed rage that his character has bottled up inside is hilarious to see bubble to the surface, even if there’s intense emotional pain at the root of it all; that’s Baumbach’s incisive speciality – humour through traumatic turmoil. Ben Stiller is superb as Sandler’s brother who seemingly has it all figured out, but clearly doesn’t. I love it when Stiller goes serious – he never misses – and this is one of his best performances in a while; I can’t wait to see Brad’s Status, which disappeared in about two hours last month.
But the film is anchored by Dustin Hoffman’s absolutely amazing performance as their sculptor father, a man so disappointed with how his life has turned out that he can’t help but wound all of those who love him due to his inability to understand where people are coming from. I loved his beard, his mannerisms, and his general sense of being in this little movie; I miss seeing him on-screen. Throw in Judd Hirsch (so great!), Elizabeth Marvel (brilliant!), Emma Thompson (a pisser!), Candice Bergen (steals her scene!), Adam Driver (steals his scene!), Rebecca Miller (wonderful!), and the beguiling Grace Van Patten (yowza!), and you’ve got the best supporting cast I’ve seen so far this year. Everyone nails their roles with dry hilarity and seems to be on the same artistic wavelength; I love it when it everything just clicks.
Also – the abrupt editing patterns in this film are absolutely incredible, bringing meaning to each scene they’re employed in; Baumbach is hardly a “flashy stylist” but he’s so on-point with simple and effective ways to build eccentric humour that it pains me to watch his movies at times. Honestly, I know this movie won’t appeal to everyone, and that’s fine. I feel like Baumbach has been making movies for me for a while now, and I’m sort of glad that many people have been slow to his prickly charms as a movie-maker; for those who “get it,” we’re all invited to this little club of caustic humor where life is picked at like an open scab. Currently streaming on Netflix (it’s one of their original films), The Meyerowitz Stories is the funniest movie I’ve seen all year, and while it won’t likely appeal to all viewers, I feel that it’s yet another elegant feather in the cap for Baumbach as a storyteller and filmmaker.
Review by Nick Clement