Current Issue #488

Stream Time: The Meyerowitz Stories Review

Stream Time: The Meyerowitz Stories Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is perhaps the most critically lauded film to launch direct to Netflix. It was written and directed by hipster darling/box-office dud Noah Baumbach, and stars a veritable who’s who of Hollywood talent.

The film, and it’s problems, can be aptly surmised by reading the misnamed Plot section of its Wikipedia page:

The story of siblings Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler), Matthew Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller) and Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel) contending with the long shadow their strong-willed father, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) has cast over their lives.

Students of Aristotle, or Robert Mckee, or, indeed, anybody who has watched several films in their lifetime, will recognise that that is not a plot. It is, rather, a list of characters and the famous people who play them, which is basically what you get when you watch The Meyerowitz Stories.

Hoffman plays a curmudgeonly artist who makes abstract sculptures, and nobody can decide if they’re any good. Sandler plays his eldest son, a deadbeat with a limp and road rage issues. Stiller plays the other son, who makes heaps of money but can’t make his own family life work. Emma Thompson plays a supporting role as the constantly inebriated stepmother. The characters fumble through misunderstandings and random events of escalating seriousness until the film finally ends, with some characters having made amends and some spontaneously developing maturity.

In a cinema, indulgent filmmaking can be endured. You know full well that you’re not going to forfeit an expensive ticket, so for better or worse you’re going to stick it out ’til the end. On Netflix, however, every few minutes you’ve got to convince yourself to keep watching a movie in which nothing has happened.

If you do manage to get through the entirety of The Meyerowitz Stories, there are consolations. The scenes which take aim at medical professionals are darkly funny. Some of the editing is very clever. The performances are, across the board, outstanding. Adam Sandler showcases that he’s a terrific actor — a fact which has once again surprised scores of film critics, few of whom ever seem to remember Punch-Drunk Love or Spanglish.

The Meyerowitz Stories is masterfully performed, looks fantastic, and is peppered with terrific little moments. At no point, however, is it engaging. It pays dividends for those paying close attention, but does nothing to try and hold that attention. This is a movie made for people with a degree in creative writing and a high tolerance for boredom. It would be a shock if it failed to win several high-profile awards. It would be equally shocking if a normal human being, with a job and a family and limited time for leisure, managed to watch the whole thing. Sophistication is no substitute for a story.

James McCann

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James Donald Forbes McCann is a writer and award-winning stand-up comedian.

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