Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is a sculptor and retired instructor at Bard College, father to Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller), and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). He is married to Maureen (Emma Thompson), his fourth wife (well, third: one marriage was annulled). The film depicts the difficult relationships Harold has with his children from their perspectives: he was often self-obsessed and inattentive through their childhoods, and all of them harbour resentments of varying visibility and intensity. There is a plot, so to speak, involving a retrospective of Harold’s sculptures, the selling of a home, and a round of ill-health; but it’s merely the string on which the pearls hang.
Noah Baumbach’s latest film is marvellous. It’s fabulously photographed and boasts a lovely script, with subtle wit and real feeling between characters you imagine could actually exist somewhere. It sets up a cumbersome challenge for itself, maintaining comedy while broaching seriousness, and I love when films succeed like The Meyerowitz Stories does; when scenes can leave you weeping and laughing, filling you with a warm sadness that feels all the truer to life.
The cast are unanimously brilliant. It’s no surprise that Hoffman and Thompson are excellent. It is, however, a rather large surprise that Sandler is outstanding. You would think the residue of all that noxious nonsense he’s done over the years would preclude any solid work from him, but he has somehow delivered here. The film revels in his abruptness, stemming from an anger which seems at every moment to be just about cresting. It matches his best performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002). While Stiller is also impressive, it’s worth singling out Marvel as Jean, whose terseness is the funniest thing about the film.
Early on, there’s a scene between Danny and his daughter, Eliza, in which they play the piano together and sing. I could feel while watching that this would become one of those cinematic moments to revisit and cherish. It’s a lovely, capaciously-hearted moment in a lovely, capaciously-hearted film.
Image: Atsushi Nishijima/ Netflix