198. The Meyerowitz Stories

★★★½

A universal quality held by all of Noah Baumbach’s great films is that their characters recognize there is some underlying, structurally-sound state of being “normal.” It isn’t just these characters recognizing that there’s a “normal” in society,  but more the fact that they aren’t part of this “normal.” They realize that they’re weird, different and broken, and while some characters strive to achieve this normal out of insecurity or shame (Walt Berkman in “The Squid and the Whale”), while others couldn’t care less about their normalcy status whatsoever, (Frances in “Frances Ha!”), they all ultimately realize they aren’t normal. They’re fucking weird.

This sense or stage of abnormality has always been an overarching theme in Baumbach’s past movies but has never been given sole focus like it is in The Meyerowitz Stories, a charming, endearing tale about an aging, artistic patriarch and his nebbish, misguided children. Dustin Hoffman stars as said patriarch Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor in old age, well-read and well-spoken but insecure about his footprint on the artistic world and world in general. His eldest son is Danny Meyerowitz, an aloof musician who moves in with his dad following the ending of his marriage. It’s a role written for Adam Sandler if there ever was one, a perfect blend of his well-known comedic versatility that also allows him to showcase something that few remember and many have a forgot: that he can be an incredible, dramatic actor if given the right opportunity.

There’s also Jean, Harold’s more reserved daughter who’s played by Elizabeth Marvel, Harold’s fourth wife Maureen, played by Emma Thompson, Danny’s daughter Eliza, played by Grace Van Patten who gives the film more laugh-out-loud moments than any other actor or character, and Matthew, Harold’s second son who’s the most mature and accomplished out of anyone in the family, but also detests being in the family the most, very well-mannered but incredibly self-loathing. So yeah, Matthew is obviously the one who is played by Ben Stiller.

They’re all such natural roles for these actors that it’s hard to tell if this is something they all really had to try hard for and transform into. Did Noah Baumbach actually have an original script for this movie or a story floating around in his head? Or did he just happen to find himself at dinner one night with Hoffman, Sandler, Marvel and Stiller and just scribble an outline for a story on a cocktail napkin as he listened to them Sandler and Hoffman throw bread and berate each other with insults while Marvel and Stiller sat silently, apologizing to nearby guests for the noise?

I’d like to think the latter is how we ended up with The Meyerowitz Stories, but in all honesty I’m happy we have this movie one way or another. It is impossible to not find a single character in this film that you can relate with, for better or worse. And it is also impossible to not be able to see a member of your family in one of the characters. It’s based in New York and set in a high-brow, artistic community, but it speaks on a deep emotional level that any person of any educational level can resonate with. There isn’t some hokey message at the end like “blood is thicker than water” or “treat your friends like family and your family like friends.” It’s a real story, filled with characters who have real love for each other, and all the other unlikable parts that come with loving someone as well.

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