Noah Baumbach has a rare ability as a filmmaker of creating beauty and humor out of dysfunction, and shaping characters that are convicted and ideological, yet unpretentious. It’s a trait that all his films seem to carry, and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is not only his most interesting ensemble, but his most humane and affecting film to date. The film lives and dies with its terrific ensemble, and while the film often drifts between melancholy and humor, there’s a surprising complexity to the characters, and their ability to speak freely while maintaining the film’s relentless pace.
When an aging artist (Dustin Hoffman) and his fourth wife (Emma Thompson) prepare his work for an exhibition, he’s visited by his three adult children; Danny (Adam Sandler), who’s preparing to send his daughter (Grace Van Patten) to college, Matt (Ben Stiller), a successful yet unhappy businessman, and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), the peculiar yet most stable of the children. Hoffman is excellent here; he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, and he’s both charming and despicable as a talented artist who’s cast a long shadow for his children to live up to.
Yet, it’s Sandler’s performance that truly leads the film; Sandler is rarely given credit for his dramatic work, which is a shame, as he’s completely committed and utterly perfect as the family’s hapless dark horse. The scenes between Sandler and Patten, one of the most exciting young actresses in the business, are among the film’s strongest, and the entire dynamic Sandler crafts between himself, Stiller, and Marvel is exceptional.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) could have easily been a series of humorous, yet unimaginative short clips, but Baumbach crafts an elegant portrayal of a privileged, yet peculiar and troubled family. The film asks the hard questions about age and growing apart, and while there are certainly solid laughs throughout, it’s more of a serious story that happens to revolve around ridiculous people. It goes without saying that the cast is phenomenal, but it’s even more impressive that the film’s “slice of life” approach could prove to be so impressive. Grade: A-