The word ‘Family’ came into English in the 15th century. As the years passed, many families found themselves in the midst of discord and distrust. And so the term dysfunctional family entered our lexicon many years later.
Amongst the many symptoms that have been used the one that comes most readily to mind is the word ‘conflict’. And many dysfunctional families deal with conflict by:
using criticism, contempt and defensiveness, along with putting up walls and looking for scapegoats.
Now in the world of tv, films, and theatrical dramas – conflict is a major component. As such, dysfunctional families are the meat and potatoes of a lot of what we watch on our various media platforms.
From The Simpsons to the The Sopranos to The Royal Tenenbaums, and from Oscar Winning films like Ordinary People (1980) to American Beauty (1999) – we can’t seem to get enough of these dramas or dramadies.
Lets add the Meyerowitz family to the mix. The film is called The Meyerowitz Stories. It opened in a limited number of theaters in mid October while simultaneously streaming on Netflix. At the head of the family is the patriarch Harold Meyerowitz with Dustin Hoffman taking the role. His claim to fame was more for being a tenured Bard College professor than for his varied art works. Though if you ask him – he’ll be happy to tell you of the excellence of that art in what can be described quite simply as a very ‘Trumpian’ manner.
He was far less successful in his personal relationships. He fathered 3 children – now all adults – Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel have the roles. His kids will tell you that each of them has a different mother – meaning that Dad, good old Dad, was divorced 4 times. At which point, Harold will correct who ever said it with – No, I was divorced just 3 times – the other marriage ended with an annulment.
Such is life with Harold Meyerowitz. Currently, Harold dwells with Maureen (played delightfully by Emma Thompson), who seems to be drunk or working towards that state of being most of the time.
Adam Sandler (as Danny) is down on his luck – divorced, jobless, and nearly broke. Ben Stiller, portraying the ‘successful’ brother Matthew, is deeply resented by Danny as apparently Matthew was the apple of Harold’s eye. I said ‘was’ but ‘still is’ is likely still in play – if you ask me.
Elizabeth Marvel is Harold’s third child, or maybe she was the first. She’s Jean Meyerowitz and she appears to be in a permanent state of depression. Her role is underwritten and she looks as if her costumer and her make up people turned her on to the set as a female sad-sack. I say that because she just hasn’t enough lines for us to know.
Well the set up of the Meyerowitz Stories is that each of the adult kids will all tell their own version of their stories, as in they each take a turn in narrating. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film has its moments of levity. Truly there’s not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments but at least there’s some.
Hoffman gives a stand out performance and that’s no surprise. All the best lines were written for him. Stiller is at least competent but he hasn’t much to work with.
The real surprise is Adam Sandler. First of all he got top billing which is surprising as his recent track record would lead one to think that top billing for him was a mistake. But he is terrific in a wonderful bit of understated acting.
He’s not the least bit Sandler-ish. He has a great amount of understanding on how to best play the role – which is simply to play the role of Danny and leave actor Adam Sandler back in his dressing room trailer.
Also in supporting roles are Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller, Sigourney Weaver, Adam Driver, Sakina Jaffrey, Grace Van Patten, and Candace Bergen.
I’m not saying I know anything at all about who got paid what, nor do I have a clue about the film’s budget. But that being said, the film works better than you might think given that it is all about a family that is clearly dysfunctional.
Said another way – it is hard to find a likable character in the film but somehow the experience of watching The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is a positive experience. Three point five is the rating.
Fun Fact: Emma Thompson is 4th billed behind Sandler, Stiller, and Hoffman – yet she is taller than any of the male leads. The link to the trailer is below: