The Meyerowitz Stories movie review: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler-starrer is the perfect 'Netflix film'

Utkarsh Srivastava

Oct,18 2017 15:36 24 IST

4/5

Halfway into The Meyerowitz Stories, I had to pause and check if it is a Wes Anderson movie. It turns out it isn’t but it is in the same ballpark. Noah Baumbach, the writer and director of The Meyerowitz Stories, has worked with Anderson before (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr Fox), and the influence shows.

The Meyerowitz Stories is — and there is no better word for it — a beautiful film. It uses unorthodox camera techniques and intricate shot-framing to create a work of art. It doesn’t over-utilise them, but every time the characters are in motion, it is depicted oh-so-well. It is a really good-looking film. And that is even before you get to the story and the acting.

Still from The Meyerowitz Stories

Still from The Meyerowitz Stories

The story pulls in all directions and is yet, extremely coherent

The narrative is held together by an irritating old man, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a retired college professor whose sculpting career never reached the heights it once promised to. He has had four marriages (one annulment, two divorces and one currently surviving) and while not being cranky, has a way of getting on almost everyone’s nerves, especially his children. His elder son, Danny (Adam Sandler) has just separated from his wife and has come to live with him. The film takes off after daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and successful younger son (Ben Stiller) drop by as well.

The Meyerowitz Stories feels like it will tend to stereotypes (bad father, children trying to be nice but wishing they weren’t here) but every time you’re sure that you know where the story is headed, it turns and walks off in a new direction. That is not to say the story drifts in any way. Quite the opposite. The script is tightly written and holds your interest throughout. It uses dysfunctional relationships as the keystone of its plot. It is in fact everything you’d expect from the maker of The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding and Frances Ha.

Hoffman and Sandler turn in top-notch performances

Then there is the acting talent. Robert De Niro gave us the lovable, capable old man in The Intern. Hoffman manages to give us the exact opposite in this film. Harold is a jerk who only cares about himself and is jealous of others’ success. He plays favourites with his children and evokes resentment even in the child he likes the most. He causes scenes and embarrasses people by walking off in protest (“like McEnroe”). And in a perfectly nailed-down old people trait, he can have a conversation with someone with zero inputs required from them.

Hoffman is wonderful as Harold. He is too cute for you to actually punch him in the face but gives you every cause to do so. And him breaking into a determined, shuffling run as he chases a person he thinks has taken his jacket is one of the most aww-worthy moments of 2017.

The man grabbing all the headlines for the movie however is Sandler. In a movie where he has no gimmick to fall back on (playing his own sister, being a former Israeli counter-terrorist who wants to be a hairdresser or having the devil as his father), we finally see his acting chops. And boy is he good.

Sandler plays Danny, the ignored elder son who has been a house-husband since his daughter was born. Now that she is going to college and he has separated from his wife, he is at a crossroads and doesn’t really know what to do.

Danny is essentially a man-child, a role we have definitely seen Sandler play before. However, this is the strongest performance of a man-child that Sandler has ever given. He is a middle-aged, unemployed man with little going for him in his life. Somehow, Sandler makes that character likeable, mature even. It is a different Sandler we see here and his work deserves to be applauded.

There are strong performances by actors across the board. Stiller is the adored son who would much rather not be there but still does everything. Marvel is the textbook definition of dowdy which is some switch in character for an actor who not long ago played the President of the United States. Emma Thompson is a delight as the drunk, hippy wife who becomes surprisingly sharp when money is involved and Grace Van Patten is the dose of normal which keeps the film grounded.

Could very well be the perfect Netflix film

The knock against Netflix films is that they rob the viewer of the theatre experience. And for action films that’s a legitimate concern. Which is why a bunch of writing on such films will advise you to watch it in a theatre.

The Meyerowitz Stories on the other hand, doesn’t need the immersive experience. It is a drama based on a strong story and has excellent actors playing well-fleshed out roles. It has some extremely funny scenes and holds your attention right till the very end. However, it is not a thriller which you must finish in one sitting because you simply must find out what happened next.

In other words, it could very well be the perfect Netflix film. It is easy to imagine getting a bottle of wine and watching it over a long evening, pausing at times to do other things and then getting back to it. For those weekends when you’re not up for going out and just want to curl up in front of a screen, The Meyerowitz Stories is a movie which keeps you entertained without requiring your complete and undivided focus, and leaves you with a happy, fuzzy feeling at the end.

It doesn’t get a perfect 5 rating as it does have one minor flaw: the abrupt cutaways it uses for comic effect but which come off more like poor editing. Also Ben Stiller crying is an immensely disturbing sight and should never happen.

But these flaws really are me clutching at straws. It is a fine film and should definitely find place on your watchlist at the earliest.

PS: The movie also incorporates two short films made by Danny’s daughter who is studying film. In Danny’s words, they are “not un-pornographic, I’m warning you”. They are striking scenes and I still can’t decide if they are the best or the worst part of the movie. In either case, you’ll certainly remember them.