The best I can say about Noah Baumbach‘s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Netflix, 5.21), a dramedy about a Jewish family with the usual anxieties and uncertainties, is that it’s mildly engaging. It gets you here and there. It mildly diverts.
Especially when things get testy or cryptic or flat-out enraged (i.e., 40ish brothers Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler trying to beat each other up, paterfamilias Dustin Hoffman ranting at a fellow diner in a restaurant who’s been putting his stuff on Hoffman’s table). Plus Stiller has a striking emotional breakdown scene, the likes of which he’s never before done.
But this mostly Manhattan-based ensemble film (with detours to Rhinebeck and Pittsfield) just isn’t all that riveting. It just doesn’t feel tightly wound or hungry to get over. It’s “good” but unexceptional. I didn’t dislike it, but feels very Netflix-y.
Where does Meyerowitz sit on the Baumbach scale? Way, way below the brilliantly anti-social Greenberg (’10), my all-time favorite Baumbach, and which delivered Stiller’s best performance of his career, hands down. And it has none of the pizazz of Noah’s two Greta Gerwig collaborations, Frances Ha (’12) and Mistress America (’15). I don’t know where it belongs, but tonally it’s kind of similar, I guess, to The Squid and the Whale (’05) and While We’re Young (’14).
During filming The Meyerowitz Stories was called Yen Din Ka Kissa, which is Hindi for something or other. “Where the day takes you”? Something like that. Pow, right in da kissa!
The story is basically is about three Meyerowitz kids — Sandler’s Danny, Stiller’s Matt-from-the-coast, and Elizabeth Marvel‘s Jean — coping with their troubled histories with their father, Dustin Hoffman‘s Harold Meyerowitz, a somewhat curmudgeonly sculptor who wasn’t that great of a dad, etc. There’s also the small issue of Harold’s possibly impending death, due to a head injury that happened while walking his dog.
Don’t even mention Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, the second best Manhattan ensemble drama over the last…uhm, 30 years. And don’t even dream about Woody Allen‘s Hannah and Her Sisters, which is still the best in this realm.