Movie Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Director Noah Baumbach moves a step away from the failed romance at the center of The Squid and the Whale and brings none of the youthful energy of Frances Ha to his latest dysfunctional family film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). The film reaches for a Woody Allen type level of humor and cleverness but falls short in both departments.
The thematic questions in the film ask what makes one successful? Is the pursuit of art more important than traditional success? At what expense should one stay dedicated to their art? These compelling questions get buried in a mire of family history.
The film opens with the father and daughter Danny (Adam Sandler) and daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). Their’s is a playful relationship and the best parts of Danny have been invested in raising his daughter. They are en route to visit his father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman) and his cartoonish, eccentric Mother-in-law Maureen (Emma Thompson). We quickly learn that Danny is the black sheep of the family. He is going through a divorce and besides raising his daughter he has achieved no measurable mark of success. Harold states his disdain of his son having begun when Danny gave up on his art, piano. His daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is a frail, weak woman who has never recovered from her childhood neglect and she has never been loved by Harold because she never expressed herself through any art form. This leaves his golden child, son Matthew (Ben Stiller). Although Matthew is successful financially, he is also in a failing marriage and struggles to find a way to bond with his own son.
Ironically, Harold has a questionable level of success himself. Although he has spent his life as a sculptor and a professor he has no book, and received only a modicum of attention in the 1970’s. He raves that he has a piece at the Whitney but no one seems to be able to find a record of it.
The characters talk over each other and at each other in an exhausting format and there is no bond visible between siblings or couples. One is fully aware that they are watching Ben Stiller acting and that Emma Thompson is pretending to be an American hippie. For as natural as the sets and costumes are, the performances and script are at some moments too dry and at others too over done to believe. With the exception of a few fluid moments, when Danny and Eliza are playing piano and when Danny and Matthew attack a car in the parking lot at a hospital most of this feels like retreads of things we have seen before.
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Sandler, Grace Van Patten, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson
Runtime: 110 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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