The Meyerowitz Stories

Year: 2017
Production Co: IAC FIlms
Studio: Netflix
Director: Noah Baumbach
Producer: Noah Baumbach/Scott Rudin
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Grace van Patten, Judd Hirsch, Sigourney Weaver, Adam Driver, Candice Bergen, Sakina Jaffrey

That this movie came from Netflix at a time when they were conducting a high proifle battle of principles with the Cannes Film Festival threatened to overshadow any of the discussion about the actual content, and that's a shame. Even though it's about a very particular slice of humanity that Noah Baumbach specialises in (family dysfunction among upper class New York Jewish literati – see also vintage Woody Allen, Greta Gerwig, etc), there's something in it for everyone who's ever had a family, despite how cliched that sounds.

We meet the Meyerowitzs in no particular order in relation to their importance to the story. Danny (Adam Sandler) is the eldest, a former music prodigy and doting father to his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten), who's about to go off to college. He's aware that he's always been more than a slight disappointment to his father, the renowned but fading sculptor Harold (Dustin Hoffman), who's always shown more attention to Danny's younger brother Matthew (Ben Stiller), successful in the finance industry and long since having moved out west.

There's also their half sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel, who I mistook to be Allison Janney in both the poster and the film almost all the way through), who's aware she's an outsider to their father but shares an easy familial bond with Danny and Matthew, and Harold's wife Maureen (Emma Thompson), an aging hippie who everyone knows is slightly below the rest of the clan when it comes to smarts.

And with such well-drawn (and performed) people, the movie is about characters and relationships more than plot. The story itself takes place over a short period where a retrospective of Harold's work is taking place, with supporting characters like Judd Hirsch as a more successful contemporary of Harold's drift around in the background to further stoke the simmering tensions in the family.

Because Sandler is the first one to be introduced you expect him to be the featureless cipher most primary characters are when they're our entry point to unfamiliar terrain or characters. But the script – together with some real performance chops the likes of which we almost never see from him (see Punch Drunk Love) – makes him more than that, giving Danny real characterisations and something to do.

Stiller is also great, keeping the comic mugging he can sometimes trade on right out of the picture, and Hoffman's character as the overly formal but prickly family patriarch is also interesting, though the sexual harassment accusations that have swirled around him for the last year as I write this have threatened to derail any appreciation of his work.

It's hard to recall exactly what went on a few weeks later besides the feeling the proceedings gave you – of the wood-panelled, thin serif font stylings of the wealthy West Village art scene and some actors working at the top of their ability to portray what feels like a real family with a deep and difficult history.

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