NYFF 2017: Family, Frustrations and Fine Art in ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’

Daniella Nichinson, Film Editor

Over the course of the 21st century, Noah Baumbach has become the pioneer of independent cinema and has established himself as the quintessential New York filmmaker. His intimate, charming and chaotic portrayals of life in the city flaunt his astute hand for direction and ear for naturalistic dialogue. With “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” Baumbach explores the challenges and blessings of family.  

“The Meyerowitz Stories” follows three estranged siblings (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel) who must deal with the constant judgement and sense of superiority of their father (Dustin Hoffman). Harold, the patriarch of the Meyerowitz family, is a retired sculptor, and though he never experiences the success of his contemporaries, he takes issue with the shortfalls of his children’s lives. Though he is too stubborn to accept the fates of his children, he eventually helps to rekindle their lost relationships.

Baumbach’s writing remains exceptional — he expertly crafts each character, fleshing them out and revealing their idiosyncrasies through quick and witty dialogue. After only a brief introduction, the audience feels as if it has known the Meyerowitz family for over 40 years. Harold is a particularly fascinating character — almost as delusional as Norma Desmond, confident to a point of arrogance and brutally direct in voicing his opinions. He appears indifferent and cold towards his family, but the warmth within seeps through the cracks of his crumbling exterior.

“The Meyerowitz Stories” is similar in atmosphere to Baumbach’s seminal work, “The Squid and the Whale.” Once again dealing with turbulent family dynamics, the film focuses on the high-class art world of New York City. From the Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney Museum of American Art, Baumbach depicts the locations frequented by Manhattan’s elite through rose-colored glasses. In the 1960s, Harold sold a piece to the Whitney, an achievement that has since defined his life. He dwells in the past and refuses to acknowledge that his prime is behind him.

As with all of Baumbach’s work, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is a study of characters and their oft-tumultuous interactions. Danny (Sandler) is the least cared for Meyerowitz child: having pursued music as a youth, the passion never culminated in a career, which causes his father to criticize his unemployment. Even worse, he is always compared to his substantially more successful brother, Matthew (Stiller). Danny does not see that Matthew has issues of his own with their demanding father, stemming from the same inability to please him. Both Sandler and Stiller deliver devoted, heartbreaking and comic performances, but it is Sandler that is especially memorable; straying from his established comedy routine, he exhibits a skilled range of emotions and a sensitivity to the words. With the character of Harold Meyerowitz, Baumbach gifts Hoffman a role worthy of parallels to his days of “Midnight Cowboy” and “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Steered by Baumbach’s keen sense of nuance and a cast of masterclass actors, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is a distinguished contribution to New York cinema. Between the overlapping arguments and the yearning for peace, Baumbach depicts the feeling of adult inadequacy with excruciating truth. As the siblings reconnect, they learn to escape the competitive shadow of their father, proving that it is never too late to grow or salvage love.

Email Daniella Nichinson at [email protected].