Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler play half-brothers in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and it's such a perfect fit one wonders why no one had thought to conceive of it before now. It's impressive how writer/director Noah Baumbach uses the talents of both stars, whose shared pasts as comic actors who rose to prominence in the 1990s on the basis of playing either the neurotic guy (in Stiller's case) or the man-child (in Sandler's) inform each 180-degree turn toward the dramatic here. One imagines by the end that the potential in Baumbach utilizing the talents of other comic actors from this era is pretty great.
Sandler plays Danny, a recently divorced father of one daughter (played by Grace Van Patten), who is off to university to study film - what "everyone" is doing, according to the handful of people who learn this about her. The short films she makes are crude and "not un-pornographic," says Danny to an old friend, but he's proud of her in any case. It seems to be the one constant in his life, as Danny is in a purgatorial period of uncertainty as it pertains to everything else. He hasn't really ever grown up, one imagines.
Stiller plays Matthew, whose own marriage is on the rocks. His son is only five and learns over the course of the movie's events that hanging up on the man is the tactic used by his mother to avoid conversation with her husband. Matthew hasn't talked to Danny in sometime, but the event that brings them together is an impending trip out of the country by their father's new wife Maureen (Emma Thompson), then a health scare as dad Harold (Dustin Hoffman) discovers brain cancer and is put in hospital after a series of headaches. Danny's hip keeps acting up, too, and if dad ignored his headaches, perhaps the sins of the father do visit themselves upon his son.
Baumbach's film isn't tied down to a specific plot beyond the family - which also includes Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny's sister by birth, and Harold's various ex-wives - coming together potentially to celebrate the end of Harold's life, as well as his career as a sculptor by way of a retrospective co-produced by his longtime friend L.J. (Judd Hirsch). Instead, it's bolstered by an impeccable cast, at the front of which are Stiller and Sandler (in two of the year's best performances) as grown men still smarting from a childhood of neglect. Hoffman, meanwhile, gives the kind of late-career revelation of a performance that only an actor of his intimidating stature can give. Harold isn't exactly likable, but Hoffman clearly sympathizes with an aging man unsure of what do with himself.
The essence of the film is summed up in one simple shot set-up by Baumbach and cinematographer Robbie Ryan: During an art retrospective, Danny finds himself separated from his father and from the old family friend. With a look of resignation in both directions, he chooses the path of escape. He comes to regret that decision later. That's life, one supposes - all hindsight. The film struggles to give Jean a voice in the family beyond a deeply held revelation, but that's a relatively small quibble in the bigger picture. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is sympathetic about people who finds themselves difficult to sympathize with, and that's an accomplishment.
Adam Sandler (Danny), Ben Stiller (Matthew), Dustin Hoffman (Harold), Elizabeth Marvel (Jean), Grace Van Patten (Eliza), Emma Thompson (Maureen), Judd Hirsch (L.J.), Rebecca Miller (Loretta), Candice Bergen (Julia), Adam Driver (Randy), Gayle Rankin (Pam), Sakina Jaffrey (Dr. Soni).
Directed and written by Noah Baumbach.
No MPAA rating.
Released in select cities and on Netflix on October 13, 2017.