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Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Meyerowitz Stories

(MA15+) ★★★★

Director: Noah Baumbach.

Cast: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten, Candice Bergen, Rebecca Miller, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver.

"The Cable Guy? Well, at least I didn't make The Ridiculous Six."
This may be stating the obvious, but Netflix is making us change the preconceptions we have about movies.

In the past, when a film didn't get a cinema release, it was presumed the film wasn't good enough. It would take the ill-fated straight-to-DVD route and end up filling the final spots on a 10-for-$10 video store mid-week special.

So there's a tendency for those of us old enough to remember video stores to expect a Netflix-made movie - ie. one that hasn't had a cinema release - to be a pile of crap. Even the Cannes Film Festival got on its high horse about the issue, banning films that haven't been screened in a French cinema from competing for the Palme d'Or, which is effectively a ban on films made for streaming services.

This ban came about because of two films - Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories - which were in competition for Cannes' top gong until they came up against a French law that mandates three years between cinema release and appearance on a streaming service (for reasons known only to the French).

This brings us to The Meyerowitz Stories, which is a great film regardless of the size of the screen it premiered on. While this modern notion isn't good enough for the folks at Cannes, it should be enough for the rest of us to help erase the preconceptions that a lack of cinema release denotes a lack of quality.

Baumbach's latest is a dissection of an upper-middle class New York family headed by almost-famous sculptor Harold (Hoffman). The return of his recently separated son Danny (Sandler) to the family home sparks a reappraisal of their relationship, particularly in regard to how Danny's half-brother Matthew (Stiller) always appeared to be the favoured son.

Floating around the edges are Danny's also ignored sister Jean (Marvel), Danny's college-bound daughter Eliza (Van Patten), and Harold's latest wife Maureen (Thompson), all of whom have their own dysfunctions.


Baumbach's script is a veritable shrink's couch worth of neuroses and issues, most of which stem from something a parent did or didn't do. The mistakes of Harold's past and his inadequacies as an artist and a patriarch create a spiral of tensions and problems that drive a story that wouldn't be out of place in a Woody Allen film.

While its narrative is a smidge too long - there's a repeated feeling of imminent endings during the final half hour - it's continually engrossing, and the characters, for all their foibles and idiocies, are worth watching. Only Jean is short-changed. Marvel does a great job as the most dour and ignored of the Meyerowitz clan, but her character is also largely ignored by the script. When her big moment finally comes, it's a clunky reveal that quickly shifts focus back on to Danny and Matthew.

The pairing of Stiller and Sandler as the at-odds step-brothers is an inspired piece of casting. Both are great when they get given strong dramatic roles, and both have rarely been better. Stiller in particular shows a depth unsighted since The Royal Tenenbaums, and it may be damning his performance with faint praise, but this is the best turn of his career.

As for Sandler, this is exactly the kind of film that makes you hate the majority of his output all the more. He's a great dramedy actor, as seen in Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and Funny People, yet we spends the bulk of his time making shit like Grown Ups, The Ridiculous Six, Pixels, The Do-Over, Just Go With It, etc etc. If he would just stick to the straighter films, the world of movies would be a much better place.

The rarely disappointing Hoffman doesn't disappoint as the centre of the film's emotional turmoil. He's a jerk but Hoffman gives the role enough humanity to ensure we can never completely hate Harold Meyerowitz.

Baumbach conjures up a nice level of humour that's occasionally dark but always on the money. His trick of cutting scenes mid-sentence for laughs is funny although feels a little overplayed by the end, and his eye for character is spot-on. Overall its a strong and oddly enjoyable film, thanks in no small part to its top-shelf cast and Baumbach's quality script.

If this is the type of film we can expect from Netflix in the future, then Cannes might want to rethink their rules.



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