Starring Dustin Hoffman. Rating unavailable
The subtitle to The Meyerowitz Stories both displays and subtly mocks the literary ambitions of Noah Baumbach’s thoroughly delightful new movie, which some might call a Squid and the Whale played for laughs.
The narratives selected here revolve around one family, itself circling Harold Meyerowitz, a once-promising sculptor with a middling teaching career behind him and an attic full of art no one wants. That he is played by Dustin Hoffman is probably the movie’s greatest achievement. His ceaseless complaints have somehow convinced everyone else that he’s a greater man than he actually is. And most in thrall is older son Danny, played by Adam Sandler in his best straight role since Punch-Drunk Love.
Danny has essentially failed at his only discernible talent: playing piano and writing catchy tunes. His paralyzing stage fright nipped that early, but he still tickles the ivories for his one true achievement, gutsy teenage daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). Danny’s a meek soul, seething with his own resentments, which emerge loudly when he’s driving in Manhattan traffic, or when anyone mentions his brother from another mother, Matthew (Ben Stiller), a successful financial planner in a family that never planned anything.
Being the favoured son hasn’t helped Matt overcome discomfort around his cranky dad, or Harold’s oft-tipsy fourth wife (Emma Thompson, hilariously transformed into a Brooklyn boho). Theatre veteran Elizabeth Marvel plays Matt’s sister Jean, who initially blends into the woodwork of Harold’s old brownstone—the clan’s only asset—when circumstances invite a clattering reunion. But she has her own tales to tell.
Family lore is central to Baumbach’s flawless script. On paper, this sounds like the stuff of melodrama, but this Netflix comedy is an altogether light-fingered creation, with enough one-liners and sharp-elbowed exchanges to attract A-listers to the supporting roles. And yes, Adam Sandler really does wear the same sad cargo shorts for the whole shebang.