In the real world, families don’t often fight like they do in the movies. Dysfunction manifests itself in quieter ways than the knockdown, drag-out combat that we’ve become accustomed to seeing on-screen.
And while “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” has a full-on physical brawl, under circumstances best left undescribed here, it finds its way in the smaller and less pronounced struggles of a domineering father (Dustin Hoffman) and his adult children (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel), who must cope with his enormous and enduring shadow.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, and a cousin to his earlier films “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding,” the movie takes the form of short and pointed vignettes that weave together the stories of eldest sibling Danny (Sandler), sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and their half-brother Matthew (Stiller) and collectively reveal the ways they have been impacted by their egotistical, regretful, deeply insecure patriarch Harold (Hoffman).
This is a New York family and a New York movie through and through — it begins with Sandler’s Danny and his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) endlessly circling a Manhattan block on a search for a parking spot. Hoffman’s Harold, a sculptor who spent decades teaching and never achieved the success in the art world he felt he was owed, is a recognizable sort of Big Apple character, a reflection of what it can feel like to live so close to so much accomplishment and feel as if you’ve never tasted it yourself.
Baumbach chronicles these people with great compassion and insight and he benefits from terrific performances.
Sandler, in particular, is a revelation: His Danny is deeply wounded — he’s going through a divorce, his daughter’s leaving him for her freshman year in college and he long ago abandoned his promising future as a pianist for full-time fatherhood. The star instills in him a quiet yet pronounced sense of dignity that makes you ache for him, and the filmmaker enhances the power of the performance through expertly assembled, lingering close-ups.
These Meyerowitzes have a lot to say, without saying much at all. They talk past each other — entire conversations come and go without each person acknowledging anything said by the other. They’re coping with the burden of parental expectations and disappointments, with years of unease and regret, and learning how to finally start living.