The stress hits the sons before they even visit their father, the opinionated, stubborn, soft-spoken but perhaps taken-for-granted and certainly caring-in-his-own-way Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman). Danny (Adam Sandler) starts screaming and cursing, but then again it’s impossible to find parking in Lower Manhattan. Matthew (Ben Stiller) starts sniffling and sneezing, but it could be all the dust from the construction site home of his rock star client ( Adam Driver). The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Noah Baumbach’s Netflix Original film debuting in competition at Cannes, doesn’t like assigning blame. Or maybe it just likes spreading it around.
There’s a third Meyerowitz child named Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), but she doesn’t get her own introduction. Taking women for granted seems like a Meyerowitz tradition, though they frequently get the best lines. There are a lot of ex-wives mentioned, and Harold’s fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) is a bit of a flake (or maybe just a drunk) in loose-fitting tie-dyed blouses with horrible cooking practices. (“Tonight, Maureen is making shark!”)
Harold is newly retired from teaching art at Bard College (an upstate satellite colony of Manhattan to many), just as Danny’s daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) is about to start there as a film student. With her gone, Danny and Eliza’s mother will separate, which is a problem for Danny as he’s never had a job short of giving piano lessons. Harold never achieved true success but stuck to his guns as an artist, while Matthew (Danny and Jean’s half-brother) moved to Los Angeles to make a killing in financial services.
If all this sounds complex, don’t worry. Baumbach is nothing if not a careful screenwriter, and he teases out these relationships with grace and, above all, humor. Although not quite the laugh-a-minute comedy of his recent work (Frances Ha, While We’re Young, and Mistress America) this still leans on the whimsical side more than the director’s other New York angst-ridden family tale, The Squid and the Whale.
There are a number of exceptional things happening here, which elevate the film from mere generational squabbling. For starters, there’s the dialogue, which is insightful and funny as hell. I starting jotting down quips with the very first scene, then soon realized if I kept it up, I’d have 85 pages of notes. Let me quickly say there are gags about hummus, Thomas Mann and the film Sex Tape airing on Starz.
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