Noah Baumbach breaks the mould with a talky drama about a family of Jewish intellectuals, creatives and misfits. If the Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a return to familiar ground for the prolific writer/director, it’s at least a return to his recent solid quality as well.
Baumbach’s films have all dealt with very similar themes of creative aspiration and how our personalities can so often hamper our own success, all starring very strained familial relationships. The Meyerowitz Stories is no different, featuring Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a semi-famous sculptor on the decline creatively and physically, and his two sons, house husband and failed musician Danny (Adam Sandler), and successful businessman Matthew (Ben Stiller).
Although their relationships are combative and the spectre of death looms over the film, the mood is never more than light and quirky. Sickbed arguments become the stuff of farce, and ruined childhoods are just material for black jokes. It’s a double-edged sword, resulting in plenty of wry laughs but also a lack of emotional connection, despite the best efforts of Sandler and Stiller, in rare but effective dramatic roles.
It’s hard to fault any of the cast: Stiller and Sandler are wellsprings of bottled up resentment and anger, and Hoffman is heart-breaking as a man adrift in time, past his best when his work meant everything to him. They’re supported by a brilliant ensemble including Grace Van Patten as Danny’s charming and independent daughter Eliza; a hilarious and almost unrecognisable Emma Thompson as Harold’s latest wife, Maureen; Elizabeth Marvel as Harold’s passive but compassionate daughter Jean; and as an added bonus, a brief but joyous cameo from Adam Driver.
They are all on great form and Baumbach’s skill with actors is clearly as sharp as ever. If there is fault to be found it’s in the writing and editing. It would be nice if Baumbach occasionally decided not to fill a second of screen time with dialogue. As it is, The Meyerowitz Stories often feels like a conversation that’s been going on far too long, about something for which you do not care, but which you can’t leave. Baumbach is covering slightly more epic ground than usual, but even so, Meyerowitz’s 110 minute runtime drags on well past its welcome. He’s the kind of writer-director who’s a little more in love with the sound of his own words than the look of his images, and Meyerowitz suffers for it.
Words by Tom Bond