Noah Baumbach does the seemingly impossible and has once again proved Adam Sandler can act...really well. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) somehow manages to convey both simple and complex family relationships in a film which can make you laugh and sob in equal measure.
If The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over were anything to go by, Netflix original films and Adam Sandler are two ingredients which make for a disastrous concoction. However, add to that recipe a small dose of Emma Thompson, a helping of Dustin Hoffman and a whole load of Noah Baumbach and you might just find yourself enjoying a delightfully warm and hearty soup, rather than the bland and tasteless toilet water ‘The Sand-man’ has come to be known for.
To those acquainted with Baumbach, this will come as no surprise. Regularly summoning career-best performances from Ben Stiller (as he continues to do here), Baumbach has proven himself skilled at manipulating comedians to bring charisma and charm to drama. Crafting a performance from Sandler which calls back to his outstanding turn in Paul Thomas-Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love from fifteen years ago, Baumbach’s script and direction has helped remind (and frustrate) us of Sandler’s underlying talent. His relationship with on-screen daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) is beautifully acted by the pair, their mutual appreciation and love for one another is present in every frame they occupy together.
At its core, The Meyerowitz Stories is a film about fatherhood. Danny (Sandler), Matthew (Stiller), and sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) are brought together by the selling of their father’s house (Dustin Hoffman) and an art exhibition celebrating his life’s work. It’s a setup which allows for Baumbach to explore the conflict of family and work, the effects of divorce and scattered families and the existential impacts of ageing. But the power of The Meyerowitz Stories comes from the fact that these themes unfold naturally as they would in reality.
What is most refreshing with this naturalism is the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the relationships in the film. What at first seems to be a son jealous of the favouring received by his younger brother by his father becomes more difficult to define. The younger brother in question, Stiller’s Matthew, experiences the same feelings of inadequacy in the presence of his father. The truth being that their relationships are damaged by a father who loves to talk about the sibling not present. It’s one of The Meyerowitz Stories’ most powerful elements, a riff on misunderstanding a father’s love and the delusion about a person’s worth to others.
It doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, and it isn’t. The Meyerowitz Stories is more of a warm mug of chuckles. In the same vein of past outings The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg, this is a dramedy in every sense. It’s laughs hold an underlying sympathy and are no funnier than everyday conversation. What’s clear is that, more than most, Baumbach understands that the everyday is funny making The Meyerowitz Stories comedy by default.
It’s nothing new to mention Noah Baumbach’s place as a powerhouse of the American independent film scene, but it may be bold to admit that The Meyerowitz Stories reflects a new era for the genre. The film itself may not be ground-breaking in the traditional sense but with its release, Netflix have proven themselves as a driving force for the future of independent film. Not unlike Meyerowitz himself, Baumbach has been forced to face his craft and evaluate how to sustain it in a changing landscape, with the result being a film to rival his best to date. There are far worse things you could be watching on Netflix, and it’s likely that most of them share the lead actor.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017), directed by Noah Baumbach, is distributed by Netflix, Certificate 15.