An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.
“The Meyerowitz Stories” presents a very nonfunctional family and the more the story reveals itself, the more dysfunctional they become. Harold (Dustin Hoffman) is the patriarch of the Meyerowitz family, which includes his two sons, Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller), and their sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). Danny has a teenage daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), who is getting ready to go to college and Matthew has a young son who stays at home with his mother while he travels a lot for his job. Danny is unemployed and asks his father if he can stay with him and his wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) while he tries to get back on his feet and he says yes. Danny’s real objective is to try and bond with his father like he did when he was a boy as they have become estranged over the years. Harold is a sculptor whose career never really took off. He taught sculpting at a New York university for many years but now having been retired for quite some time, he feels that his work is due a retrospective.
A longtime friend of his, L.J. (Judd Hirsch), also a sculptor, is having his work presented at art galleries around the city and Harold feels like it should be him instead and begins to resent L.J. He unintentionally begins to take his resentment out on his family, tearing them further apart. When Eliza finally heads off to college to be a film major, she sends the family her very first movie, an obscure, vibrant, and very self-conscious effort about feminism where she traipses around naked, pretending to have sex with other women while wearing a strap-on dildo. This doesn’t help matters but when Harold falls into a coma, a result of him accidentally falling and hitting his head a few weeks earlier, his entire family and friends rally around him, in the hopes that he will eventually regain consciousness and be back to his cantankerous old self. While he is comatose, his children begin to reflect back on their lives, remembering the good times, and some of the not so good. Laughter and anger ensue, sometimes together and when Harold eventually wakes up, he is back to his usual, irritable self.
While director Noah Baumbach has assembled a first-rate cast, his movie doesn’t quite cut it. Granted, we each have families and they all have their idiosyncrasies and abnormalities, no family is perfect but the Meyerowitz family, while very dysfunctional, are just not very likable, a big no-no when it comes to a narrative’s protagonists, of which they all are. We are supposed to be able to relate to them, to sit there and go “oh yeah, I know that feeling, I have a brother or sister just like that,” and while we do happen upon a few of those moments, the majority of them feel like they were created specifically for this film and do not feel authentic. One of the main issues I had with the story was Dustin Hoffman’s character, Harold. He is a bitter old man, angry at the world because his sculpting career never took off and he takes it out on everyone around him. He never wants to hear what people have to say to him, even when they are reminiscing about old times, he always interjects and makes their story about him. Believe me, I know many people like that and being around them is almost impossible. Hoffman’s character is like that the whole way through the movie and even after his coma, when he wakes up, he returns to his previous, grouchy self and picks up exactly where he left off, with no thought given to the fact that he almost lost his life and now would be the perfect time to reconnect with his entire family.
Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel all give terrific performances, it’s just a pity the rest of the film doesn’t follow suit. If the whole point of the story was to make Dustin Hoffman’s Harold as unlikable as possible, then that goal was achieved, he was not only unlikable, but also obnoxious, contentious, and ungracious. There was not one redeeming quality about him and towards the end of the movie, I found myself wishing that he would pass away in his coma, at least that way, his family would be able to get on with their lives without his egotistical, megalomaniac arrogance. One other aspect was Danny’s teenage daughter Eliza. She sends her father and the rest of the family, not just one movie, but several, each employing more nudity of her than the last but not one of the adults finds it in any way perverse. Instead, they are all supportive and while I can understand a father wanting to be encouraging of his daughter’s college endeavors, watching her be completely nude and pretending to have sex, while his brother and sister watch, just screams of debauchery. Just a good old-fashioned, New York family story.
In theaters Friday, October 13th