You don’t choose family
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Meyerowitz Stories is another smart and thoroughly engaging comedy-drama from indie auteur Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha). The story here centers on a family caught up in almost perpetual emotional turmoil.
The Meyerowitz folk and their stories revolve around an aging, oft-married, now “retired” sculptor named Harold (a superb Dustin Hoffman) and his variously unsettled adult children—Danny (Adam Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and Matthew (Ben Stiller). A member of a third generation of the family, Danny’s college-age daughter Eliza (an excellent Grace Van Patten) lays claim to a dynamic role in the ongoing drama as well.
Writer-director Baumbach tells the family’s story via gently divided “sections,” each of which entails an implicit shift toward the viewpoint of a particular family member. Major family events make themselves felt—the sale of Harold’s New York living space; Harold’s illness; Danny’s hospitalization; arrangements for a retrospective show of Harold’s work; Eliza’s entering college at Bard (where her grandfather had long taught in the art department). But the real story here resides in the highly fraught (and at times farcical) interactions of Harold and his variously wounded offspring.
Sandler’s mostly noncomical performance is excellent. Hoffman’s is almost comical, but never strays far from hints of maniacal tragedy. Stiller and Marvel stay close to straight drama, but never in a way that suggests indifference to, or immunity from, the Meyerowitz family frenzies.
Emma Thompson makes a wry contribution as Harold’s bibulous fourth wife. Candice Bergen has a memorable moment or two as wife No. 3 (Matthew’s mother). Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller and Adam Driver are all very good in brief secondary roles.