“I sense the work is more intimate than the space.”
It’s taken more than a decade, but I’ve finally arrived at the conclusion that I’ll always appreciate the laser-like focus of a Noah Baumbauch picture but will likely never be able to unabashedly love anything this talented magician conjures (save for Frances Ha, which by esteem is elevated to uncharted levels by the great Greta Gerwig). It’s not an aside or an outright critique of the filmmaker himself; any student of cinema can tell that this is a man with a deep appreciation for the hilarious drama of day-to-day life. I just find that his tastes tend to flow counter to my own. In The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Baumbauch tells a stuffy and quirky Woody Allen story with the stale and rigid framing of a Wes Anderson film, which means that this movie oozes idiosyncratic personality without being able to communally speak to the layperson. It’s quite possible that I won’t see another film this year that manages to talk as much as this one does whilst saying so little.
The hawking, snobbish, and semi senile Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) really only cares about himself and his work. Now a crotchety and bearded old man, Harold believes that he’s been unfairly snubbed and looked over by his artistic contemporaries without delivering proof that his work is actually worthy of recognition. Like most elderly folks, Harold reflects on and shapes the present in accordance with his past. His selfish subjectivity undermines his blind objectivity. Is he meant to be taken seriously and literally? Or is he supposed to serve as a metaphor signifying artistic injustice? I really can’t say, and that’s because Baumbach’s film unfolds at light speed. These are intriguing, intelligent, hasty interactions that rarely register a blip on the radar because they zip by without taking a beat or a moment to look us in the eye and say hello. I was never sold by its cold solicitation.
Baumbach’s movie unfolds episodically. There’s Danny (Adam Sandler), a failure by most accounts, a talented musician who never took up the profession and a friendly parent to his daringly artistic and college-bound daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). The next chapter introduces us to Matthew (Ben Stiller), a man who’s made something of himself, frustrated by a Father reluctant to doll out congratulations. Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) lives in the deep, sad, unfelt corners of this picture, and is only given a single notable scene. She’s an obsolete and almost obligatory female persona, which to that effect leads me to believe that The Meyerowitz Stories could have found its footing with a more concentrated and singular back and forth approach. I couldn’t rip my eyes away from this film because it was so odd. Likewise, I couldn’t stop critiquing all of its severe and blundering missteps.
While watching this movie, a line from Baz Lurhmann’s enlightened song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” jumped into my head. Maybe my unconscious made the connection due to the similar punctuation, or maybe it was because Lurhmann delivered a memorable blurb to dedicated and lifelong city folks like Baumbauch. “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.” Despite great dramatic performances from Stiller and the affable Sandler, The Meyerowitz Stories doesn’t get past that first bit of advice. It’s not a hard or a gritty picture like a 70’s Big Apple neo-noir, but it’s also fairly inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t spent a night laying awake in a city that never sleeps. I know that Baumbauch is capable of making great films. Perhaps someday I’ll no longer play the role of the outsider and feel welcome to sympathize with his eclectic characters.
“He’s a talented, pretentious enigma.”
Rating: 3 out of 5