Great cast, characters prop up formless 'Meyerowitz Stories'

By Michael O’Sullivan
The Washington Post
Posted10/12/2017 6:00 AM
  • Harold (Dustin Hoffman), right, meets up with his son (Ben Stiller) in "The Meyerowitz Stories."

    Harold (Dustin Hoffman), right, meets up with his son (Ben Stiller) in "The Meyerowitz Stories." Courtesy of Netflix

"The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" -- ★ ★

The latest film by Noah Baumbach, which is being released simultaneously on Netflix streaming and in select theaters, feels like a finely textured but unfinished suit. With a title evoking a collection of literary vignettes, "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" tells a tale that, like the writer-director's best work ("The Squid and the Whale," "Frances Ha"), is stitched together from the incisively cut fabric of life among New York City's striving, neurotic culturati.

Baumbach, the son of film critics Georgia Brown and Jonathan Baumbach, grew up swimming in waters teeming with Manhattan's artsy -- and, at times, sharky -- elites. And he gets one thing exactly right here: the depiction of the embittered and too-smart-for-his-own-good artist.

But structurally, "The Meyerowitz Stories" is a shapeless and baggy thing.

The artist in question is aging sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), and the story (or assemblage of half-stories) revolves around his dysfunctional family, including: three adult children (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and the appropriately named Elizabeth Marvel); a teenage grandchild (Grace Van Patten); and his fourth wife (Emma Thompson, in peak loopy mode).

Presented in distinct segments -- some of which have chapter titles referring to Harold's children, before Baumbach gives up on the gimmick -- the film is set before, during and after a medical crisis reroutes the well-worn ruts that the colorful Meyerowitz clan is used to traveling in. These ruts include bickering, talking -- or texting -- behind each other's backs and whining. The most common refrain of Harold, who never achieved the critical renown of his sculptor friend (Judd Hirsch), is that he is still waiting for something that will put him "on the map."

Underscoring that theme of the habitual, Baumbach cuts away from several scenes in mid-word, as if to suggest that there's no point in continuing, since we -- or at least the Meyerowitzes -- have heard all this before.

The acting is impeccable, and there is an undeniable appeal to spending time with these damaged but entertaining individuals. Though rarely laugh-out-loud funny, "The Meyerowitz Stories" succeeds in putting a smile on the face of anyone who recognizes the thin slice of the Big Apple that it depicts. It's hardly a meal, but "The Meyerowitz Stories" makes for a bag of tasty snacks.

• • •

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch

Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Other: A Netflix release. Rated TV-MA for language, sexual situations, nudity and a drug reference. At Chicago's Century Center and available on Netflix. 110 minutes

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