Noah Baumbach’s stylish new dramedy The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) arrives on Netflix this Friday 13th October. The indie director, who has won over fans and critics with his back catalogue of nuanced, New York-based satires of middle class pretence, has pulled together a fantastic ensemble cast for his latest outing, packed out with heavyweights such as Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
But, incredibly, it’s Adam Sandler who steals the show.
We knew it was possible: the actor was fantastic as a socially awkward toilet plunger salesman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love.
That was, however, nearly 14 years ago – and in the years since, he has fronted a problematic gay marriage film (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry), starred as both lead roles in the widely-panned sibling comedy Jack and Jill, and produced two dire original films for Netflix (The Do Over and The Ridiculous 6), with four more on the way.
It’s befuddling, then, to see Sandler so effectively flexing his dramatic chops here as Danny Meyerowitz, a recent divorcee with a limp, whose inability to hold down a regular job seems to be directly related to some complex daddy issues. For those, he has Meyerowitz Sr (Dustin Hoffman) to blame, and he’s not alone.
Equally screwed-up are his sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller). While Matthew has become a successful businessman, he seems envious of the comparatively happy home life that his brother has – Danny’s relationship with his 18-year-old daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) is the only healthy one on display here – and he inexplicably scrambles for his father’s approval.
The dynamic between these two brothers is the central cog of the film. Constantly in competition with one another throughout their formative years, Danny and Matthew attempt to rebuild their relationship following a tragedy – to mixed results.
There’s a depressing tale in here somewhere – they are fragmented people; two half-developed adults; a seed spread too thin by a man with no interest in parenting. But Baumbach, who sets the tempo to canter, never lets the film drift into melodrama, and decides against delving further into this. It’s just their reality – another screwed-up family to add to the list – and, hey, it could be worse. Comedy is clearly the ultimate goal here, and in this world, consistent titters are valued over belly laughs.
For these, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson – who plays his current wife Maureen, an alcoholic hippie – are regularly responsible. Hoffman is fantastic as an elderly artist with absolutely zero regard for social etiquette, who seems to have no appreciation for his sons’ desperate attempts to impress him.
At various stages, the bottled-up emotions boil into rage, and there are few actors better equipped at delivering this than Stiller and Sandler. A late scene, already teased in the trailer, which sees the brothers having a full-on scrap at a family event, results in a brilliant bit of physical comedy, which might be jolting in a film which takes itself slightly more seriously.
The Meyerowitz Stories feels like a healthy blend of two of the director’s previous films. While We’re Young, which starred Stiller and Naomi Watts as a bored, childless couple – felt so piercingly accurate that it was almost insufferable.
The other, his 2005 drama The Squid and the Whale, which explored the effect a long, fractured breakdown of a toxic relationship had upon teenage children, was his most affecting to date.
The Meyerowitz Stories mixes the best of both of these previous works, and throws in a masterful cast for good measure. The result? Possibly Baumbach’s best work yet.