The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Meyerowitz Stories
"The balance of the super real with intricately timed artifice and how they collapse into each other is Baumbach's crown achievement."

The father of the Meyerowitz clan, the medium successful artist Harold, is played to perfection by Dustin Hoffman. Early on in the film, his most recent wife Maureen (Emma Thompson), a more or less recovering alcoholic, prepares a meal of shark soup, so vividly awful in grey broth with vongole clams still closed.

Like many of his previous films (including Frances Ha and Mistress America), Noah Baumbach's latest brims with bold, lucid details - verbally and visually stinging. We experience the family dynamics in neatly constructed scenes that evoke an almost physical response. Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller) are flawless casting as the feuding, loving, furious stepbrothers.

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Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) huddle around a paternal center and explore the very special relationship individuals tend to have with fathers - how much they get away with and why children far into adulthood still return for more abuse in the never ending search for approval.

Danny, a full-time house husband and devoted father pre-separation, is first seen in his car with daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) in the passenger seat. She will be leaving for college soon, to Bard upstate, where her grandfather taught for many years and where she will be making films in continuation of the family's artistic tradition.

During that initial car ride with smooth verbal shortcuts ("I used to go to Danceteria." and "I told you about Cindy Sherman years ago") the close relationship between the father and daughter is established. While singing along to the radio, arguing if "garaging" the car is worth it around Cooper Union, and shouting at the traffic, Danny shows spirit and agency - something he loses in the presence of his own father.

Elizabeth Marvel plays his no less intimidated sister Joan, whose style of dress seems to be entirely modeled after what Diane Wiest wore in Woody Allen's Hannah And Her Sisters 1986. Her coats are never broochless and she carries victimhood and anger with her like a spear.

The family's tall white poodle is named Bruno, "after the idiot in Werner Herzog's Stroszek." There is an art opening at MoMA, hospital visits upstate, and superb supporting moments from Adam Driver as Randy, Matthew's client, and Rebecca Miller as artist LJ Shapiro's (Judd Hirsch) daughter. Candice Bergen shows up as a regretful stepmom, who lets go of a copy of - of all things - the Buddenbrooks (Thomas Mann's novel about the fall of a family clan) and Michael Chernus deadpans as a second-choice nurse. This is about art and family and the messes we make.

Harold and Maureen have plans to sell their house in New York, childhood home not really to Joan and Danny, but to Matthew, their half-brother who is a very successful accountant, living in L.A. with his family. The house contains Harold's artworks - going on sale with the building.

Matthew arranges the sale and is in town for Randy, who hands him two pills that take you up or down, he forgot which is which, plus some lint from the pants pocket they came from. Adam Driver is fantastic as a paragon of someone nuts and rich. The pills will return because Baumbach never forgets a seed he planted. The perfectionism is so great, that even poodle Bruno, obviously awakes from real deep sleep when Danny makes room for himself on the couch.

The balance of the super real with intricately timed artifice and how they collapse into each other is Baumbach's crown achievement. While the dance of the camera by cinematographer Robbie Ryan (I, Daniel Blake, Slow West, Ginger & Rosa) solves riddles of perspective, we mostly forget about the how because the people we see are so wild in their normality.

The filmmaker has his characters watch a clip from The Awful Truth at some point and while we look at Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, someone comments that "maybe they dressed up because they had shorter lives." Of all the hilarious and sobering moments, including a fight on the lawn at Bard between the two brothers, this is the one that resonated for me the most.

I am in awe of how advice - given at an end-of-life-care meeting for relatives - can be so funny and not make me cringe. "I love you, I'm sorry, I forgive you, forgive me, goodbye." Who can argue with that?

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2017
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Comedy drama about a family who gather in New York to celebrate the work of their dad.

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