The Meyerowitz Stories, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, has a wonderfully addictive rhythm to it. That rhythm doesn’t come from an overstated score or a movement from the actors that dominates the scene; instead it comes from a highly dysfunctional family’s way of communicating with one another. They almost seem to verbally duel one another, with words that move fast and land in a way that seems to physically hurts. It is this damaged, defensive family’s history, that a touching, funny film comes from. I’ve wanted to review a Baumbach film for a while now and I’m excited to finally do so. Let’s get to it.
Harold Meyerowitz – played by Dustin Hoffman – is a talented sculptor with many well-known works to his name, but such a talent came at the expense of his ability to properly father his children. His estranged family gathers together for the first time in a while for a celebration of his work, but he takes ill after a fall. Danny – played by Adam Sandler – Jean – played by Elizabeth Marvel – and Matthew – played by Ben Stiller – must reconnect and repair what little connections they have, and hopefully get their family to a stable place for once. All while juggling the struggles of their personal lives, which are in various states of disorey.
What makes this film such a fulfilling watch, is that just one of the characters alone would be enough to fill a whole film, but in the case of, The Meyerowitz Stories, there are at least six to enjoy. Noah Baumbach is a writer who always forms interesting characters for his stories. They are people who inhabit a different section of society, and at times that can make them seem snobbish, but at other times they are fascinating delights. This film has a mix of those two attributes but not in a way that turned me off to the film – instead, it took a greater hold of my attention. The characters aren’t the easiest of people to empathise with, but there is a broken heartedness to them… a vulnerability that made me want to be a part of their story.
The Meyerowitz family are the epitome of dysfunctional. They’re interactions are laden with a dark, cruel, yet humourful tone. The words between them fly fast and with a harsh bite to them. And when those words came together, there would be heaping amounts of sub-text or underhanded comments that would vary between comical and crushing. So, I at times was laughing at the verbal jabs that were being thrown around the dinner table, and at other times I was stopped dead by the cruel honesty between a father and son. The film has a damaged, yet touching level of emotion forever coursing through it. They always felt like a believable family. They talked at a pace and with a familiarity, that made them feel genuine. We all have that rhythm with our families and it’s something that is not easy to mimic/replicate.
And like most families, each member has their own unique little quirks. Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is an unforgiving, controlling force that everyone is desperate to please. So desperate that they are blind to his failings. Harold seems like a successful, celebrated artist, but the second you take him out of the comfort of his home, where he boastfully walks around putting people down, you see a man with a social standing that is much less than what he portrays it to be. It was… sad to see honestly. In fact, the same can be said for nearly everyone in the Meyerowitz family. They each in some way portray themselves as people who are happy with what they have and who they are. But it takes very little to discover that, that isn’t the truth. Their failings, their vulnerabilities consume them and are at all times on the cusp of imploding. That makes for some really deep characters, supported by performances that brilliantly show these many sides to them.
Matthew Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller) seems the most in control of who he is. He won’t let his father control his life anymore. He branched out and did things how he wanted and he’s happy about that. But… that isn’t really the case. Matthew is actually still under his father’s watchful eye, he just isn’t willing to admit it. And all the praise and accolades that his father lumps upon him are just as damaging as how he neglectfully treats, Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler).
All Danny wants is to be appreciated… noticed by his father, but Harold simply doesn’t see him. And that causes this uncontrollable rage within Danny – something Sandler is good at harnessing and letting loose. But perhaps the person who interested me the most was, Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel) and that’s simply because we got the least insight into who she was as a person but what we did get was utterly fascinating. She doesn’t have the same self-destructive tendencies as her brothers, but what she does have are some very particular quirks, and those quirks make her always interesting (and funny) to watch.
All these actors do a great job with their roles (yes, even Adam Sandler) and they all really seemed to understand who their characters were. The film’s strength is its characters and Noah Baumbach made some great choices, when it came to the actors and the characters they would play.
The Meyerowitz family is a deeply broken one (like most families I suppose). But what stopped the film from being a depressing experience and actually turned it into a satisfying journey, was the attempts by various members of the family to repair the damage. The bond that forms between Jean, Danny and Matthew is lovely to see. The unloading of lies slowly strengthens them. They grew, the changed and they became better people for it, and beyond all the fun that I had watching them bicker with each other, it was seeing them on the other side of that, supporting and caring for one another, that made the film… beautiful. Baumbach gives a sweet, rewarding arc to the characters and their story, and it was exactly what I was wanting (I just didn’t know it when I first started watching the film).
And isn’t like the film approaches its characters in slow, methodical way. The Meyerowitz Stories is a film with quite the pace to it. Just like the Meyerowitz family, scenes move fast, the characters talk fast, everything has a movement, a rhythm to it that keeps things lively. It’s never a film that feels like it gets bogged down in the semantics of the moment. And I think it’s helped by a score that has a hurriedness to it. It almost seems to establish the tone of the scene it is playing in, and while the characters bombastically communicate, the score bounces around in the background, keeping the tempo going.
So, The Meyerowitz Stories is for the most part a simple film. There isn’t really a plot that propels it, rather it is the little stories of each of the characters that build together to make the film. They all intersect with one another and build out the film into what it is. It made for a film in which I sat back, settled in, and enjoyed the madness of.
Noah Baumbach is a storyteller who isn’t for everyone. I know mainstream critics love his work and are quick to praise it, but honestly that’s probably because he presents characters in environments that critics understand. Your everyday consumer can’t really find a lot to relate too when it comes to Baumbach’s work. I for example have loved some of his films and found a sincerity and a sweetness to them (Frances Ha), but at other times have loathed every second of a pretentious, out of touch feeling experience (While We’re Young). But I am of the opinion that, The Meyerowitz Stories may be Baumbach’s best film yet. And perhaps the greatest compliment I could give to Noah Baumbach’s style is that (for me) it is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s early work. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but there was something to it that I found enriching and touching.
So I’m going to recommend, The Meyerowitz Stories. With it being on Netflix, it means it is easily available and a great introduction to Baumbach’s work/style. It’s fun, it’s moving and it’s well worth checking out, which I hope you do.
I’d love to know what you thought of the film and of Noah Baumbach’s other films, so please leave any thoughts in the comments section down below. It would be great if you were to give both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – a follow. But I’ll finish this review up now, by thanking you for your time and hoping that you have a great day!