Synopsis – An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.
My Take – When a film continues to haunt you, nearly a month after you watched it, you know it must have been really good and I in my case here it was this Noah Baumbach directed film. Honestly, I have never been a massive Baumbach fan, mainly as his films all sort of feel the same, and tackle the same kind of issues, and of course this one is not much different, except that this is his most easily accessible film yet, and is also a stark reminder to all haters that Adam Sandler can in fact act, when given the right platform. To be clear, those viewers that found some of Baumbach‘s most well-known films like The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg and Margot at the Wedding, a hard films to sit through won’t be finding the going any easier with this film as the directors maintains his trademark quirkiness, middle aged failures and awkward scenarios here, but somehow here, the struggle the titular family goes through, is not just very funny and painfully true to real life, but also very insightful and highly enjoyable. After debuting in May at Cannes and receiving glowing reviews, this Netflix release has been on my radar for a while now, mainly due to its Bollywood inspired original title Yeh Din Ka Kissa (I am not kidding!). While initially the combination of Adam Sandler & Netflix did make me a bit skeptical about spending valuable time, my curiosity remained intact largely due to the presence of Dustin Hoffman (one of my favorite actors) & Ben Stiller (I literally adore him) in the cast, but, the funny thing is, it was actually Adam Sandler who walked away as the scene stealer in this quirky, indie dramedy, which is also one of the year’s best films. The story follows members of the Meyerowitz family, a Jewish-American clan of elitist misfits, which consists of the Harold (Dustin Hoffman), the father, and his children from different mothers, Matthew (Ben Stiller), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and Danny (Adam Sandler). While Harold is biologically the father of all three children, he never acted as a father towards them, as he has always regarded himself and his career as a sculptor & teacher above them, an action that emotionally damaged his kids in different ways. Now, 80 years old, and still in search of the fame that has eluded him for years, he has begun considering about selling his place and all of his art, mainly due to the pressure from his current/fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson).
Over time each child split off and did their own thing, Danny turned out to be a talented musician decided to stay unemployed, and chose to raise his daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), instead, while Jean, an ordinary woman whom no one acknowledges with much interest, does her duty of being present nonetheless, is a project manager at Xerox, and the most resentful, Matthew turned out to be successful wealth manager for hot shots, while constantly stressing over his 5 year old son over video chat. When Harold has a serious encounter with death due to his high tolerance for neurological pains, the children come together, to look upon how they have been living in their dad’s overwhelmingly enormous shadow all this time & what it means to them, as they organize their father’s art retrospective show in his former work place. It’s not often that an ordinary, everyday comedy/drama would hold your interest every frame of the film and here, director Noah Baumbach did just that. The film unfolds in an episodic format, with each child and Harold getting their own portion of the film. Each story is meaningful and captivating to watch as we really dig deep into their past and see how the actions of Harold have affected each one of them so many years later. Told through various character perspectives in no real cinematic structure, there’s a naturalism to the style, a humbleness that revels in subtleties rather than climatic overtures and by god is it refreshing. All the stories are delivered really well and add up to make a great overall narrative. However, each one is not evenly balanced, specifically Jean’s as she gets a significantly smaller window than her brothers. It’s sad to see since her story is just as good as both of the men. Every character is pleasant to watch and play really well off the others. The chemistry between the cast is exceptional and makes it really convincing that each of these characters are part of the same family. The best part is that there isn’t a drop of pretension to be found in the film, no barriers between you and the characters, who are all lovingly played by an assured, veteran cast. The film isn’t heavily plot-driven, and that’s a good thing, though it has solid plot elements, especially revolving around hospitals for Harold, who has a life-threatening crisis, and for Danny, who faces up to the need for a hip replacement. Matthew takes care of it, even to a private room, and this is one of numerous sequences about the brothers’ rapprochement. Any rapprochement with Harold is fraught because however diminished, he remains as annoying as he ever was. In an exaggeratedly frank speech by Danny at the faculty show, which Harold can’t attend because he’s in the hospital, Danny says he hopes his father was a good artist because if he wasn’t, he was just a prick. There’s just something special about a film that mirrors reality, in that it takes itself very seriously, while still giving many laughs to its audience in order to provide levity. Here, director Baumbach seems to be so in tune with people and can capture sometimes how as a human race we can be so incredibly flawed including times of selfishness, arrogance, pride, jealousy and a large swath of emotions that I think if anyone were to take an honest look at themselves, could easily find within not only themselves, but many people in our family and in our midst whether we be in a relationship with them, or not. This new film again takes the look at various members of a very dysfunctional family and at times we are laughing with the characters and sometimes at them as well. And yet, director Baumbach seems to have a love for each and every one of these characters and they are not just written to be mocked, or made fun of in a negative, or overly critical way, but instead I think he is just showing the true side of human nature and how over time our true flaws and neuroses will eventually come out.
With any family we see again the things that unite us, the things that tear us apart and then there are those times in between, but nevertheless with all the members various eccentricities and their own desires of what they think they need in this world to make it work for themselves, or at least somewhat in their favor, we see them openly and honestly and with his great use of characterizing people and giving them both a sense of humanity and great personality these characters feel rich and layered as well as so wonderfully real and at times, in fact most of the time it is an actual joy to watch them on screen and interacting with one another. Now, the film isn’t perfect but I would point out its flaws, while the film is also full of clever, non-stop dialogue, it’s often so non-stop that it’s really hard to keep up with it; but I still loved the film, actually probably because of it. But what is being spoken is quite moving and bittersweet. Director Baumbach‘s screenplay is rich in details and savors the moments with sharp conversation and biting humor. He creates fully realized characters that have a refreshing authenticity and depth. His direction is concise and he paces his film with a steady confidence, never allowing scenes to outstay their due. However, he does tend to meander toward the end of his film as he tries to tie up the loose ends of his plot and forsakes his linear structure of his chapter motif, leading to certain cut-offs of scenes feel quite disruptive. I will say that one particular scene did throw me off as too edgy and unnecessary brining be out of the film and stopping the momentum that it has built up. A specific scene regarding the character of Eliza showing Danny her film school project. On the one hand I understand that we also been shown how shooting is down in a film community but that particular scene to me just felt completely out of place and unfortunately distasteful. Even though, I did like the relation between Danny and his on-daughter Eliza at first, but when she’s off to college, she turns from this down-to-earth girl into an exhibitionist film maker, making egocentrically porn and selling it as art. Maybe she really was the one and only true successor of her grandfather, and she may just turn unto the same unlikeable person he is. Just thinking about that as I write, I might have missed that point when I watched the film. The performances given in this film were so relatable, familiar and hence warm and enjoyable. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as the mentally deteriorating Harold. I wasn’t prepared for him to play such an obnoxious, selfish character, but as expect he is outstanding as the self-centered patriarch. Ben Stiller is really good in this film. Despite being a frequent collaborator of director Baumbach, this one turns out to be his best role yet. Elizabeth Marvel does a great job as the troubled Jean. She makes us feel sorry for her since she is known as the forgotten child of the clan, even though she has achieved so much in her career. It’s not very often that a fantastic film stars Adam Sandler, but I’ll admit it he is great here. This is a performance quite different from what you might expect. It isn’t a retread of Punch Drunk Love, or a dramatic overhaul of his past characters either. Here, Sandler portrays genuine heartache & proves us, that he’s truly an actor of high caliber. Emma Thompson dazes in and out entertainingly as Harold’s latest, awful wife. The film also features supporting performances from Grace Van Patten, Candice Bergen, Judd Hirsch and even a cameo by Sigourney Weaver & Adam Driver. On the whole, ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’ is a charming and outstanding family tale that deserves a watch thanks to its wonderful script, enticing characters, and superb acting; making it one of the best films of the year.
Directed – Noah Baumbach
Rated – R
Run Time – 112 minutes