The Meyerowitz family has spent their lives talking past each other. How can they find ways to say the important things that must be said? Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a comic, yet painful look at a family that must struggle to get past a lifetime of the barriers they have built between each other.
The film is an ensemble piece with a strong cast. Family patriarch Harold (Dustin Hoffman) is a little-known sculptor and retired art teacher. He is defined by his outsized sense of importance. His son Danny (Adam Sadler) is moving in with him after Danny’s daughter heads off to college and Danny and his wife separate. Danny’s sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) leads a peaceful suburban life. Danny’s half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) is a well-off West Coast money manager. (Others rounding out the cast are Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch, Grace Van Patten, and Candace Bergen)
All three of the children have issues with Harold. They also have issues with each other. As the film progresses these issues become apparent, but when Harold’s health fails, they must learn to bridge the emotional chasms that have grown through the years. Many of the problems involve Harold’s self-absorption. His ego seems to believe that all the world should revolve around him. He notices almost nothing about those around him. Because of this, conversations are often two people talking about different topics, never hearing what the other person is saying.
These scenes are comic, but they make for a painful comedy, because they grow out of the suffering that each person has buried for so long. Hoffman, Sadler, and Stiller are all accomplished in comedy, and it serves the film well to have them in these roles, even though it is much more somber than we are used to seeing them.
This focus on lack of the ability to communicate with each other is the foundation for the most powerful section of the film in the last third, after Harold’s health suddenly becomes a serious concern. The siblings, each in their own way, must find their paths to say goodbye to the father that has been such an aggravation to them. As it so often the case, the animosity is interwoven with the love they each feel for their father. That complexity creates a struggle far more difficult to deal with than the frustrations they felt when Harold was healthy. The struggle with impending grief adds yet another layer of pain to the dynamic. As the closing credits roll, Randy Newman’s song “Old Man” plays, which provides an excellent coda to this tragi-comedy.
The film is showing in select theaters and also streaming on Netflix
Photos courtesy of Netflix