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Film review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Anne Joseph enjoys a tale of family woes

 

Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel

    Writer-director Noah Baumbach once again excels and delights in his portrayal of family dysfunction.

    Here he explores how we judge failure and success within the confines of family and what it is that binds us as kin. Led by a convincing, stellar cast, The Meyerowitz Stories is funny, tender and smart. Structurally divided into a series of chapters of uneven lengths, this messed-up, New York clan provide highly entertaining viewing.

    Dustin Hoffman plays the heavily grey-bearded patriarch, Harold Meyerowitz. Difficult, overbearing he’s a sculptor of minor repute, who, in his 80s, claims that he’s, “doing the best work of my life right now, but that’s just one man’s opinion.” He has been on the peripheries of artistic success but believes that he has never received the accolade and celebration that he should. He also doesn’t seem to listen to any of his three children, each of whom is defined by his or her relationship with him and his expectations of them. Harold’s favourite, Matthew (Ben Stiller), is a wealthy fund-manager who lives in LA and is half-brother to kidult, recently separated Danny (Adam Sandler), a talented musician with little aspiration or professional success but whose close relationship with his freshman college daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten) is especially affecting. His shy sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), is largely invisible to her father. Gentle and awkward, she grows in confidence the more time she spends with her brothers — the three having been brought together to organise a retrospective show of their father’s work.

    At the same time, Harold’s fourth wife, Maureen (Emma Thompson) floats about in a semi-alcoholic haze. Bohemian and quirky, she is organising the sale of their NY home — a decision met with a mixed response from the siblings.

    Despite Matthew telling half-brother Danny that he doesn’t even get angry at his father any more, the boys are still clearly desperate for their impossible and uncooperative father’s approval. But it isn’t until “the Dad” (Maureen’s affectionate name for Harold) — ends up in hospital that his children re-evaluate their relationships with him, as well as their rivalries with each other.

    The overall impression is of a cast that is having a damn good time buoyed by Baumbach’s seemingly effortless dialogue.

    It also enables Sandler and Stiller to re-confirm themselves as serious, accomplished actors capable of more than light comedic roles.

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