Film: "The Meyerowitz Stories" Lacks Emotional Development, Despite Natural Dialogue

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

This is the day I have to admit that Adam Sandler can act circles around Ben Stiller. It’s a very strange day.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” and American filmmaker Noah Baumbach dives deep into that unique familial unhappiness. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” tells the story of the eponymous Meyerowitz family and is centered around its patriarch Harold Meyerowitz and his three children: Danny, Matthew, and Jean.  

Harold is a sculptor and former Bard College professor who has neglected his eldest two children, Danny and Jean, in order to start over with his son, Matthew, from another marriage. An octogenarian who has failed to find prestige, fame, and money from his work, Harold has become bitter toward the art establishment, his old friends, and especially his family. While Harold isn’t an abusive father, he is still depicted as a terrible parental figure – far too narcissistic to truly give love, care, or attention to his family.

In this film, Noah Baumbach shows a new approach to many of his favorite subjects. His past films often deal with the difficulty of family relationships, such as in the movies “The Squid and The Whale" and "Margot at the Wedding," and his love for the lives of the awkward and lost, such as in “Frances Ha.” By telling a story with older and more mature characters, Baumbach is able to reach a different depth of feeling – one of long simmering resentment, mixed with the wisp of hope that Harold might change.

The plot goes on predictably: the family gets together, there’s a crisis, the family gets closer, and at the end, some people change, and some people stay the same. However, the focus of the movie isn’t on the plot but on the dialogue instead, which does feel ‘Baumbachian’ with its sarcastic quips and awkward pauses.

More importantly, the dialogue feels natural when played into the tight family drama. Probably the most impressive feature of the dialogue is that although everyone talks in the Baumbachian style, the characters all feel different, which is a testament to the actors. Dustin Hoffman as Harold comes off as both punchable and pretentious, while Elizabeth Marvel as Jean comes off as awkward yet biting.

At the end of the day, I would say that the movie is a worthwhile but frustrating experience; sometimes, the film all feels a bit too cute as it mixes comedy with deep, pathological tragedy. The movie also just doesn’t know where to end, stretching from 100 minutes to an almost painful two hours, especially at the end when the film fades in and out with almost five different endings.

Watching this film and other movies, such as “Punch-Drunk Love” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” makes me feel fed up with Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller who both continue to churn out some of the worst lowest common denominator comedies year after year, despite their ability to make something great. I would recommend people to watch this movie, but to also be wary of how it shies away from its emotional depth and how the main actors could give us more things like this film instead of “Jack and Jill” and “Zoolander 2." 

3.5/5