Monday, October 2, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
NYFF Screenings

Family dynamics are always good fodder for cinema, especially when they’re complicated by a variety of factors. It’s hard to find all that many happily married adult film characters with happily married onscreen parents, and that’s because divorce and the effect it has on children both then and when they are older can be truly transformative. There’s a reason also that it happens a lot in comedy because, aside from the disruptive consequences of a martial split, the results it can produce do tend to be funny if framed in the right way.

To talk simply about divorce doesn’t do this film justice. Sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) has been married multiple times, and currently lives with Maureen (Emma Thompson), an eccentric woman who likes to make terrible-tasting, fancy dishes like shark for guests. Harold has three children, two from his first marriage and one from his second. Danny (Adam Sandler) is an out-of-work aspiring musician with a daughter of his own, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), headed for college, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is an odd bird who doesn’t interact much in social situations, and their half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) spends most of his time working and rarely visits his family. As Harold’s health declines, his children develop new relationships, both with each other and their father.

This film comes from writer-director Noah Baumbach, well-known for films like “Mistress America,” “Frances Ha,” “Greenberg,” and “The Squid and the Whale.” Harold in particular sounds like Jeff Daniels’ memorably obtuse character in the latter film, spewing off all of Baumbach’s signature dialogue as he gives his opinion on highfalutin ideals like art and culture. Hoffman is hilarious, to be sure, though all that he utters doesn’t feel entirely genuine. This represents a positive career step for Sandler, whose earlier forays into dramatic territory weren’t nearly as successful as this moderately serious but still fittingly comedic part. Stiller is also great, though the true revelations are Marvel, who never got such a chance to be funny on “House of Cards” and “Homeland,” and Van Patten, the youngest member of the cast whose aspiring filmmaker daughter is one of the film’s most curious elements.

This film’s title includes a clause in parentheses, indicating that these stories are not the complete representation of the Meyerowitz family. These are merely snapshots of a few moments in the adult lives of the three children, free of flashbacks and hardly definitive. These moments are extremely entertaining, full of humorous scenes, but the overall experience isn’t nearly as resounding or transformative as it seeks to be. This is typical Baumbach fare – inviting and intriguing, not interested in being satisfying or feeling entirely complete.


No comments: