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Friday, 27 October 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

A few months back I wrote about Adam Sandler and Netflix and ended with how much I was looking forward to the above film which caused such a stink at Cannes for not being a 'real' movie. It has now been released on both the streaming service and in selected cinemas to generally enthusiastic reviews. I therefore feel obliged to explain why I found it something of a disappointment -- which has absolutely nothing to do with its being Netflix-financed.

For a start I really don't 'get' Noah Baumbach and I have now seen most of his films going back to his first major dysfunctional family flick "The Squid and the Whale" in 2005. The above film is largely the same again, reportedly loosely based on his own dysfunctional family history. Even with his more female-centric movies starring his squeeze Greta Gerwig I find it hard to get on his wavelength or to hail him as one of the best 'young' directors.

The Meyerowitz in question is minor artist (sculptor) Dustin Hoffman who has never received the recognition and acclaim that he believes is his due and who is now on his fourth marriage to Emma Thompson (underused and wearing a fright wig). He's a consummate failure as an artist, a husband, and a father. There are three half-siblings from his first three attempts at wedlock: eldest son Adam Sandler who has spent most of his life as a 'house-husband' and whose own marriage is disintegrating, the younger son Ben Stiller who has always been Daddy's favourite and who is mind-staggeringly successful out on the Coast, and withdrawn sister Elizabeth Marvel, who apart from one scene, is also given very little effective screen time. There follows a series of vignettes outlining the family's attempts to humour their impossibly demanding father and underlining the sibling-rivalry riffs that have grown between them. They are finally drawn together when Hoffman is hospitalised with an undisclosed but serious ailment and seems to be at death's door. However he recovers and is just as obnoxious afterwards as he was before.

Perhaps that's the biggest problem for me. I have never been much of a Hoffman fan and his characterization here is 100% off-putting; he's shallow, selfish, and completely obsessed by his very minor talent which the world has refused to acknowledge. The most that he can claim is an unexhibited piece at the Whitney Museum and his inclusion in an exhibition at Bard College where he has taught for years. The real revelation here is Sandler who proves just how good an actor he can be when reined in by a tasking director (remember "Punch-drunk Love") and not allowed his own free hand to go OTT. Stiller is less successful in what is largely a straight role and he has certainly played similar comic-tragic characters in the past; he's never really been as clownish as the worst of Sandler. Thinking about it, Sandler is really the only player in this ensemble who seems to have grown by the fraught family reunion and one admires him.

In short, despite some sharply written dialogue the movie is neither sufficiently dramatic nor comic to be completely satisfying -- it's rather a bitter slice of life that's better soon forgotten.
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