I loved this movie from the moment it started. Perhaps it’s because I used to drive in New York City and related to Adam Sandler trying to find a parking space while shouting at fellow drivers. Talk about a sense memory! Writer-director Noah Baumbach hits many resonant notes in this perceptive screenplay about a—yes—dysfunctional family. But the Meyerowitzes are not stock characters. Baumbach imbues them with the kind of contradictory traits that make them three-dimensional.
Dustin Hoffman delivers a rich, layered performance as a pompous father who has always favored his oldest son (Ben Stiller) over his other children, with Emma Thompson as his wild-haired, alcoholic, flower-child wife, Elizabeth Marvel as their hapless daughter, and a stellar supporting cast.
The real marvel of this film (no pun intended) is the depiction of Sandler and Stiller as half-brothers who have a true love-hate relationship. Stiller has moved to California to get away from his family but circumstances bring him back to New York; further complications require his long-term presence. There is much unfinished business between them and their oft-neglected sister. A sequence set in and around an upstate hospital covers a wide swath of emotions which turn on a dime. Within moments it veers from social satire to farce to the most intense drama imaginable, yet the filmmaker and his cast make it all work. (I daresay anyone who has dealt with health care or hospitals will find it easy to relate to the darkly funny, painfully honest material in this segment.)
What I normally don’t respond to is Adam Sandler’s brand of comedy, but I’ve always liked his serious performances and this is his best yet. He and Stiller make a perfect match, whether they are spewing long-suppressed feelings or exorcising their anger in a puerile prank. Lording it over them is Hoffman as a self-centered, self-serious artist who has never received the recognition he thinks he deserves.
Everyone in the cast gets a chance to shine, including relative newcomer Grace Van Patten (who strongly resembles her aunt Joyce), Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller, and in one striking scene, Candice Bergen. Baumbach makes excellent use of New York locations and orchestrates his collection of vignettes with commendable skill. The Meyerowitz Stories is one of his best films, and I’m glad Netflix is giving audiences a chance to see it on theater screens in a number of cities as well as on their streaming service.