Noah Baumbach makes family movies that feel lived in – the kind that banter, bristle and sometimes bleed. The real kind. To the company of The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding and While We’re Young, you can add The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), a literate New York comedy of bad family manners in which Baumbach rarely sends out a line of dialogue without a sting in its tail.
The film plays like a series of New Yorker short stories bound by blood ties. The Meyerowitz clan lives in the shadow of a father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman, giving a performance that is sublime in every silly and serious detail). The patriarch’s career as a sculptor hasn’t been going so well in later years. Adam Sandler plays Danny, the divorced son and failed musician who devoted his life to raising his daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten). We all know that Sandler can really act when he wants to (Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish, Funny People) – and this is the actor’s finest screen performance to date.
When Eliza heads off to college, Danny is left trying to figure out who he is. No help from dad, of course, who saves his praises for his other son, Matthew (Ben Stiller), a mega-successful business manager just in from Los Angeles. The third Meyerowitz child is daughter Jean (the most excellent Elizabeth Marvel), a wallflower who’s basically ignored by everyone … until, in a later scene, she reveals a traumatic secret she’s hidden for years. Nothing manipulative or tearjerking, mind you; Baumbach doesn’t traffic in those Hollywood booby-traps.
What brings the family together to lick their emotional wounds – and maybe heal a few in the process – should be left for you to discover. What’s clear by now is that Baumbach is a master of family dynamics whose withering wit is tempered here by a warmth that makes the film as moving as it is brilliantly comic. And he’s gathered a cast that could not be better, including the ever-splendid Emma Thompson as Harold’s current wife and a deliciously tart Candice Bergen as an ex who knows the old artist well – maybe too well. You can see The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) in theaters or on Netflix. Your only mistake would be to not see it at all, and miss out on one of the unalloyed pleasures of the fall movie season.