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Friday
Sep 29 2017

NYFF: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Team Experience is at the New York Film Festival.Here'sManuel Betancourton Noah Baumbach's new film,coming to Netflix on October 13th.

If the title hadn't clued you in just yet,Noah Baumbach's latest frames itself as a collection of short stories.Explaining this structure at a press screening during the New York Film Festival,theFrances HaandThe Squid and the Whaledirector said it had helped him create these discrete "stories"that together would tell a larger narrative about this (you guessed it) dysfunctional family.

We first meet Danny (Adam Sandler in fullPunch Drunk Lovemode),a middle-aged man who can't help but get needlessly irritated at the parking situation in New York as he heads to visit his father with his college-bound daughter in tow (Grace Van Patten,a revelation).Harold (Dustin Hoffman),who now lives with Maureen (Emma Thompson,having a ball in a much broader comedy than the melancholy film around her),is a sculptor who's made a modest name for himself.Jaded by the world,full of himself,self-assured of his scathing opinions about other people's work,Harold is an oppressive force,the kind of man whose ego all but fills the room...

You can see why Danny cannot help but feel like a disappointment,why his sister Jean (a just pitch-perfect Elizabeth Marvel) is a walking wallflower yearning for attention.And that's before you add in the fact that these siblings always take second-billing to Harold's son from his later marriage: Matthew (Ben Stiller),who gets the next section of the film all to himself as he goes out to lunch with Harold and tries to help him settle his estate should,you know,anything happen.

By the time Harold finds himself in the hospital ahead of a Group Art Show at the college he used to teach,his three adult children must rally together and put their own differences with him aside to care for him while he recovers.Even in this summary,I'm making the film sound much more acerbic than it actually is.There's a surprising amount of warmth running through this fragmented family portrait.The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)shifts emphasis from sibling to sibling and illuminates their many frayed interactions,which are steeped in decades' worth of annoyances and petty squabbles.They all feel,to used a tired cliché,"lived-in."And so much of it has to be credited to the performances: Sandler burrows deep to give us an affable loser man-child who takes (as he should) pride in being a good father;Stiller stretches his neuroses notes to the extreme only to offer a teary-monologue about how angry he's been at his father that may well be the best performance he's put on screen.

And then we get the two true standouts of the piece: Marvel,in a pair of mousy glasses and as unflattering a straight-hair hairstyle as you can imagine,shines as the oft-neglected Meyerowitz sister one deadpan punchline at a time ("Jean,do you want to say something?""Fuck,no.").Where Marvel finds nuance in monotony (truly a gift considering Jean remains on the sidelines for much of the film until a late-in-the-film monologue about a teenage trauam that's just heartbreaking),Hoffman truly plumbs the depths of what,in lesser hands,would be a truly insufferable character and makes him sing.Whether huffing and puffing about the nerve of a waitstaff who refuses to seat him 45 minutes before his son's reservation time or yelling at his son while trying to drive away in a cramped Brooklyn street,the Oscar winner hasn't been this assured in years.In his hands,Baumbach's dialogue sounds divine,earning belly laughs that both point to Harold's insidious narcissism while never making it merely a butt of the film's jokes.

There's a wonderful humanism in this collection of short stories that build and comment on one another,adding new shades and new perspectives to what it means to be a father,a son,a daughter.And yes,I will share my favorite line of the piece which belongs to Maureen and which I'm still cackling over a full day after catching the film (for a second time!):

He was very attractive.Baby-faced but sinewy,like a former lover of mine—Willem Dafoe."

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Reader Comments (1)

Too bad I won't get to see this since they decided to release it as a TV movie on a channel I don't get.They should have released it in theaters like a real movie.I like this director too :/(

September 29,2017 | Unregistered CommenterSFOTroy

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