“The Meyerowitz Stories” is Noah Baumbach’s poignant tale of a dysfunctional family

By Jose Gil

In a society where TV shows like “Full House” or “The Brady Bunch” tend to depict families in a happy-go-lucky light, it is refreshing to see a more realistic perspective. Noah Baumbach’s portrayal of a dysfunctional family is the closest I’ve seen to a real-life comparison. Filled with jealousy, resentment and emotional trauma, Baumbach presents viewers with a world some will find all too familiar.

“The Meyerowitz Stories” are a collection of vignettes that center around Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), the failed artistic patriarch of a broken family and his crumbling relationship with his sons and daughter. Adam Sandler steals the show with his performance as the down-on-his-luck musician and neglected son, Danny Meyerowitz, who struggles with the emotional trauma of his past and the present situation of his father’s health.

Matthew Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller), the prodigal son of Harold Meyerowitz, is the child of Harold’s third wife and half-brother to Danny and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). Of the three siblings, Matthew received the most attention from his father, although it becomes evident that this laser focus love doesn’t change the emotional state that Matthew faces as we see that he and Danny are in similar emotional positions.

The film forces the audience to switch sympathies between Matthew and Danny as more is revealed of their childhood. They both have their irredeemable qualities and compete for the love of a father who himself is not emotionally stable.

Sandler and Stiller as brothers competing for their father’s love hits close to home. Even more touching are the moments when we see them put aside their petty squabbles to grow as individuals independent of their father’s manic personality. They still care for their father, but they realize they can no longer allow Harold’s toxic influence to be the driving force of their lives.

Saying that Adam Sandler is the best part of the movie is something I haven’t said since his work with Paul Thomas Anderson in “Punch Drunk Love.” It is clear that under the direction of a skilled director, Sandler is able to deliver one of his best performances. Sandler keeps the childish attitude that we all know him for, but behind every outlash is the cry of a child who yearned for his father’s appreciation but never got any.

With Hoffman and Sandler controlling the screen, it would be easy to forget about the other characters. However, actors like Ben Stiller, who subtly reprises a role similar to that of Chas in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Elizabeth Marvel and Emma Thompson lay the foundation of this broken-down home.

Their talents are allowed to shine, although the film could have used a bit more of the deadpan comedy Elizabeth Marvel’s (Jean) provides, as they support and propel the story to new heights. When the Meyerowitz family are together, their bond is present but frail. It has lasted through years of resentment and silence.

Using tiny moments of real human interaction, scenes that feel improvised because of their level of groundedness, Baumbach offers moments of salvation for the family. While the finale may not be your traditional happy ending for a film, it does end in a more optimistic but realistic manner, leaving us with a bittersweet tear in our eyes.

Noah Baumbach’s treatment of the Meyerowitz masterfully rides the line of over-the-top yelling and a family that is a tug away from unraveling. Each frame of the film is filled with colorful sets, stylish costumes and magnetic performances. Baumbach’s command of characters and situations allow for a more down to earth humor.

Familiar situations, nuanced performance – especially from the legend Dustin Hoffman – and Adam Sandler’s volatile personality all coalesce into the driving comedic voice of the film. “The Meyerowitz Stories” is truly one of the best dramedies (dramatic comedies) that I’ve seen this year. The film brought me to tears and brought upon a cathartic feeling at the end of a rough week.

A+

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