James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Cole Clay // Film Critic
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)
Noah Baumbach (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, MISTRESS AMERICA) is a filmmaker with intellectual taste. His films have explored family dynamics and growing up through a humorous lens. The filmmaker has been quite prolific lately making four films that have hit a high note, especially when he teamed with writing/life partner Greta Gerwig on their 2013 spontaneous comedy FRANCES HA.
His latest, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED, premiered at Cannes back in May and has since been acquired by Netflix, which lends to the truth that Baumbach could break out of the arthouse without having to compromise creatively. The film tells the story of an estranged family through little vignettes capitalizing on character beats and the oddities of life. With a cast full of movie stars, including Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, there’s an eclectic mix of comedic talents working in unison to create yet another thoughtful and, at times, very funny filmgoing experience.
This film is too good not to be considered one of his career highlights, even though this isn’t exactly new ground for Baumbach. The Meyerowitz family is of typical Jewish-American heritage and are attempting to find their own paths in life as a family, while maintaining their individuality. Danny (Sandler) is the eldest sibling whose a great stay-at-home dad to teenaged Eliza (Grace Van Patten), but has no career after his wife decides to separate. He has a sibling rivalry with his half-brother Matthew (Stiller), who’s a successful financial analyst and clearly the favorite of their father Harold (played with grace by Dustin Hoffman). We meet these brothers over two separate stories that have mutually destructive, if not hilarious outcomes. Along the way, we discover they have a half-sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and a recovering alcoholic step-mother Maureen (Emma Thompson). Despite the family’s differences, there’s love there, or at the very least a sense of accountability the Meyerowitz siblings have for each other when their father becomes suddenly ill.
Say what you will about Sandler and his long list of terribleness on screen, this is one of his great performances as an actor. He has a history of playing over-the-top, angry characters with a silly and sympathetic tone, yet Baumbach applies those faults to how it can be crippling in reality. He’s very good in this role and holds his own with an always sympathetic Hoffman. Baumbach slowly turns this film into an ensemble piece by bringing in all his characters to face their emotions organically, and not in a fashion that hits its audience over the idea. True, films are made to mimic reality, not with what’s exactly taking place on screen, but with its emotional payoffs — and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES has this. The heightened comedic tone that comes out of left field during the film’s second act is unexpected and oddly brings out the honesty in all of the characters.
Baumbach is one of the best independent filmmakers working today. His work makes you feel smart in a way that rarely condescends, and his work does its all with a bit of a wink. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES does well at examining a family filled with very famous faces and brings it down to the level of everyday family problems. If Baumbach keeps selecting stories such as this for his new projects, he’s more than likely to be in the independent film conversation for decades to come.
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) is available to stream worldwide today on Netflix.