Noah Baumbach has quite a well regarded back catalogue of film, with titles such as Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale, and Mistress America under his belt. In addition he has written for films such as The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Fantastic Mr Fox, and Madagascar 3 (okay, let’s forget that last one). So, when it was revealed that he would be casting Adam Sandler in his latest film, I had a pretty big decision to make. You see, I made a vow back in 2012, after suffering through That’s My Boy, to never waste time watching Sandler on film again. However, given the prestige of the writer/director, and the fact that this isn’t a Happy Madison production, I was hopeful this would be one of those rare entries into Sandler’s CV that shows what he is actually capable of.
The film is a story of a dysfunctional family who are brought together when their artist father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman) has an upcoming show. He has rarely been seen as a positive influence in their lives, being strong willed and extremely stubborn, and as they gather around him one by one, they start to wonder how much of a father he actually was. Adam Sandler is Danny, talented but lacking motivation and with serious rage issues, Ben Stiller is Matthew, extremely successful in business but lacking social skills and confidence, and Elizabeth Marvel is Jean, nervous and jittery. Their insecurities all stem from Harold’s open disappointment in them all, something which they begin to realise as the open show of Harold’s work approaches.
With a level of dry wit throughout, The Meyerowitz Stories is a joy to watch for both the fabulous writing, and the talent of the cast. Stiller seems to be echoing some aspects of his role in The Royal Tenenbaums (a film with which this film shares a few similarities), delivering one of his strongest roles in a while. Sandler, however, is perhaps on a career best in a role that is a far cry from his whiny-voiced man-baby comedy image. The film, told as a series of vignettes, opens with a focus on Danny and his daughter, Eliza, as he is trying to find a space to park. In that short scene, filled with dialogue exchanges between the two, we learn so much about him as a person and a character, and see his underlying anger issues. From that scene on you can’t help but care about the character, and everything that follows. This is the Sandler of films such as Reign Over Me and Punch Drunk Love, and if he would only focus more on his acting than his attempts at comedy he could, possibly, be ranked as one of my favourite actors.
Hoffman, who has also been on a career slump in recent years, his most recent stand-out role being the sadly cancelled drama Luck, plays to strong form in the role of Harold, and there are certainly aspects of some of his socially-inept roles through the years mixed in to craft a very believable character. The manner in which he acts comes over as petulant, manipulative, and mean-spirited, but underneath there is something caring about him, something that makes you sympathise, or maybe more pity him. Elizabeth Marvel’s role as Jean seems understated, lurking in shots, awkwardly attempting conversation, but has adds a key element to the family unit – heart. With some of the funniest lines, she also has perhaps the most poignant ones too, and whilst at the early part of the film her inclusion seems unnecessary, by the end you realise she was the most important element to the story of them all.
Throw in Emma Thompson as Harold’s latest wife, a drunken mess with a creative mind when it comes to food, but no talent to actually back it up, and cameos from names such as Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver and Sigourney Weaver, and not forgetting Grace Van Patten as Eliza, Danny’s daughter, and the overall result is a solid drama, with wit, directed beautifully, and with a cast delivering to the peak of their performances.