THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES review by Rahul Vedantam – Noah Baumbach’s latest hits Netflix

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES review by Rahul Vedantam – Noah Baumbach’s latest hits Netflix

Noah Baumbach has never been one to shy away from the esoteric drama-comedy (there’s a reason he’s good friends with Wes Anderson). And his greatest work so far – THE SQUID AND THE WHALE – tackles the same New York living, family-in-distress archetype that lends itself so well to the genre. Family is hard, there is love and stress in every groove, which lends itself so well to films exploring both the humor and pain that comes with being a part of one. With THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES though, he focuses on the late stage of family life, and the awkward relationship between two half-brothers and their father.

Danny (Adam Sandler) and Mathew (Ben Stiller) Meyerowitz are friendly but distant half-brothers, both carrying scars from their childhood under the parentage of Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman). In the early Meyerowitz household, art was religion; Harold’s work and failure as an artist forced the household to revere and practice art in conjunction. Harold’s work never quite scaled the heights he felt he deserved, and now he lives with his alcoholic third wife (Emma Thompson). After Harold’s divorce, Danny and the third sibling Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) became distant objects for their father. Rather, Matthew became the sole object of his affection. When Danny’s piano talent goes to waste, due in part also to his decision to become a stay at home husband in his 20’s for his daughter (Grace Van Patten), and Matthew chooses to pursue a career in the financial world, and a rift is created in the family. Decades later, what brings them together is Harold’s sudden health complications.

The story is told in chapters, each focusing on one of the siblings. Sandler hasn’t been this good since PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, which isn’t saying much, but his acting is effective. He’s a shell stretched out in being an artist, father, and son, and he finds how to play the piano with a helplessness that is conveyed solely through his face. His daughter is now going off to college for drama, and he and his wife are ending their marriage, he must figure himself out as he now reenters a world he left long ago. Stiller is good as well, less surprisingly so, as we’ve seen his dramatic chops before in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, and his over-managed childhood has left him some scars as well.

It’s wonderful to sit in the stew of the awkward uncertainty that Baumbach concocts. When Harold falls ill, you feel the children’s uncertainty about how their lives would be easier if he did pass, but how they still love their father. Everyone in this family would rather engage in fisticuffs and yell than address any deep-seeded issues. Even middle sister Jean is sitting on her own sordid problems. When all this comes together with terrific performances from everyone involved, you get an absolutely fantastic dramedy on family.

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