Noah Baumbach seems to have transformed himself into an indie heir of the Woody Allen of the 70s and 80s. His movies bring back that dramatic and comic spirit, playful and serious at the same time, but fundamentally neurotic. Baumbach is also from New York, and while not all his features have been filmed there, maybe this is the purest New York movie of his to date.
The Meyerowitz universe is a bit Allen, a little Wes Anderson, a pinch of Transparent, with a dose of any Judeo-North American literature classic. Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is a veteran sculptor who never achieved the success and prestige that many of his colleagues did and, now a septuagenarian, is a passive-aggressive, egocentric, narcissistic, albeit funny, character. He’s had four marriages and children from two of them. The oldest is Danny (Adam Sandler, in the best performance of his career since Punch Drunk Love), a frustrated musician who has never worked in his life. He has just sent his daughter (Grace Van Patten, excellent) to the same university he went to, and where his father taught. His sister (Elizabeth Marvel) seems as solitary and frustrated as him, both victims of a somewhat monstrous father who never paid attention to them.
The one who had a kinder childhood and who appears to be doing better is Matthew (Ben Stiller), from Harold’s next marriage. He is an accountant, something his father does not respect – or at least that’s what Matthew believes. Despite his happier youth, he’s also having a difficult time. Then there is Harold’s last wife, portrayed by Emma Thompson, a nice but quite useless, alcoholic woman, who seems to have her head permanently in the clouds.
The film is divided into episodes that are focused on each character, with the sale of the house they have in Manhattan and a possible retrospective of Harold’s work as central narrative axes. Through anecdotes that are mostly funny but have a bitter aftertaste, The Meyerowitz Stories focuses on the difficult relationship that these three children have with their father and each other, and the potentially irreparable damage that Harold’s lack of recognition of them could have caused.
Between visits to exhibitions, uncomfortable lunches and dinners, repeated anecdotes, fights and reconciliations, the movie is a sort of neuroses catalogue of a New York Jewish family that could relate to any other place in the world. It is also a film about memory. Or, rather, the memories and stories that families tell themselves, which can be false, intentionally or not. The Meyerowitz do not keep their frustrations and grudges to themselves, so the piece becomes, at times, an excessively descriptive chain of reproaches and recriminations – many of them, extremely entertaining, even when they are almost pathetic.
Baumbach films his characters from close quarters, choosing rare ellipses to interweave chapters, giving the impression that the camera is another member of this vibrant yet troubled family. There is no clinical distance in the film; the director shares, suffers and enjoys with the characters the curious moments that they happen to be living. And although many of them are vitally important from a dramatic point of view, often they are sorted with a good gag or a humorous shot. The Meyerowitz Stories is a screwball comedy for the 21st century.
The Meyerowitz Stories does not have a UK release date yet.
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