‘It was like walking barefoot through broken glass to get a milkshake. I loved the milkshake, but, you know, my feet were bleeding…’
Kevin Smith, Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, the thread that runs through the work of all my favourite directors is dialogue. I like watching shit get blown up as much as the next man (unless the next man is Michael Bay) but as with music and song lyrics, it is dialogue that enables something to become great rather than merely good. That being said, it needs to come from characters I can relate to or at least believe in.
This brings us nicely onto Noah Baumbach. The famous writer/director is responsible for such critically acclaimed lo-fi fare as The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha. While I enjoyed both of those films, the artistic, eccentric characters are a world away from my own life experiences and, unlike the work of contemporary Wes Anderson, if you don’t really like the characters you aren’t left with much else in a Noah Baumbach film. There are no stunning visuals or lush orchestration to save the day. And so to The Meyerowitz Stories…
Dustin Hoffman is Harold, an uncompromising and miserly patriarch who presides over various children from various marriages. Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller prove once again that given the right role they can both excel, here playing half-brothers Danny and Matthew. Elizabeth Marvel is similarly impressive as their sister Jean and relative newcomer Grace Van Patten suggests a bright future ahead with an assured performance as Danny’s daughter Eliza.
The Meyerowitz Stories serves as a collection of vignettes as a dysfunctional family attempt to reconcile and find some peace. The non-linear nature of the story telling doesn’t jar too much, but at nearly two hours there are too many tedious moments here, particularly in the first half an hour or so. Having said that, The Meyerowitz Stories is never a dull film, despite the fact that very little happens in terms of plotting, and that is testament to Baumbach and his ability to create lived in, interesting characters within his work.
Fans of Noah Baumbach will no doubt be delighted with what is possibly his most accessible film to date but he is unlikely to win many new admirers with a movie that feels very similar in tone to all his other work. The perfect gateway to the world of Noah Baumbach but par for the course in every other respect.