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REVIEW: “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”

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Let’s face it, Adam Sandler has a lot of duds. I mean A LOT of duds…so many it would be one of the easiest lists I’ve ever made to create ten of his work. However, when he truly finds that special project the once great comedian can really get the job done, and that’s just ONE great thing about a little comedy knowns as “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”. Both a limited theatrical and Netflix release, this fantastic dramady brings together a cast of amazingly talented actors and actresses to create a powerful, funny, and entertaining story that is actually very well shot, well written, and strangely odd in all the best ways. As moving and eye opening as it is entertaining and unique, it’s one of the best comedies I’ve seen all year. Lets get to the review and explore just how good it really is.

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“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is a comedy-drama written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the writer of “Kicking and Screaming”, “Madagascar 3” and a personal favorite of mine “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”. The film occurs in segments depicting the lives of two siblings, down on his luck Danny Meyerowitz who is played by Adam Sandler and successful businessman Matthew Meyerowitz who is played by Ben Stiller, as well as their sister Jean, played by Elizabeth Marvel, as they try to escape the shadow of their egotistical artist father Harold, played by Dustin Hoffman. After a life changing event puts their father in the hospital, the three siblings are forced to reconcile and address the things that set them apart while deciding their own positions on their father’s legacy as a man and sculptor.

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“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is a fascinating dramady and one that honestly was a lot more watchable and enjoyable than I expected. The premise seems cliché on paper, but what we get is a strong cast handed a great script that bring their characters and the story to fully realized life. Every character comes with their own quirks, sins, flaws, and advantages in their lives that help them stand out and every detail of who these people are plays into the larger story. Comedies tend to be more respectable when they are relatable and grounded in realism and here the comedy is toned down just enough to favor a great mix of drama and laughs making for a well-balanced look into the lives of a family of quirky egomaniacs who are believably jaded but also extremely likable.

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Now as I said Adam Sandler’s performance isn’t the only good things about this film, but it’s certainly one of the most surprisingly great aspects of the project as a whole. Sandler actually acts in this movie! With no cheesy jokes and slapstick, bottom-of-the-barrel antics to lean on Sandler is forced to give it his all and he truly shines. He actually matches up with the top-notch performances of the frankly much better actors who share screen time with him in this film and shows his ability to take an otherwise bland scenario and truly bring some levity to it in the best way. Sandler has performed in dramas before so we know he is capable of some great work, but it’s been a while sense we got a true quality reminder of what he can do when he is kept in a box and forced to control his acting and comedic timing. Sandler is likable, believable, and basically all the best clichés for a great performance and it’s so awesome to see that he can still bring it if given the right opportunity.

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It should be no surprise that the other half of this brothers duo, Ben Stiller, is at the top of his game as well. Stiller has proven to be a capable and talented actor in dramedies, most recently starring in the excellent “Brad’s Status”, and he brings the same charisma and effective approach to his latest role as well. Stiller is mesmerizingly arrogant as the more successful son who has forsaken his family to follow his own path, but at the same time he’s extremely likable and relatable despite this flaw. He’s not a villain by any means, he’s just the guy many wish they could be, a self-made man who escaped the family legacy to pave his own road. In doing so however he’s a man who has forgotten where he came from and Stiller portrays this mix of cynicism and ego so well that Matthew just feels like a normal guy with faults and unrealized demons like everyone else. Match that with the underachieving, temperamental Danny that Sandler plays and the two create a great duo that capture both sides of the definition of “failure” when faced with a family legacy, one who didn’t succeed and one who refused to succeed along the same road. We even get a great middle road entry in a trio of siblings who failed to live up to that legacy in Elizabeth Marvel’s Jean who is very much in line with her brothers, and the other two actors, in terms of quality and significance while representing a child who did neither too much nor too little to really become something worth being proud of.

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In between all of them is legend, and recent sexual harassment subject (although I’m not here to discuss that) Dustin Hoffman who sets the bar pretty high for not only his sons as patriarch Harold Meyerowitz, but also as the best actor in this movie who forces Stiller, Sandler and Marvel to up their games to keep up with Hoffman’s amazing timing, characterization, and commitment to almost every aspect of his portrayal of an egocentric sculptor who feels the world, and his kids, have left him behind. Hoffman totally hams up this role, but in a good way. He goes all in to make Harold as unlikable, yet as adorably awkward as possible. He’s a nightmare of a father whose shadow is cast over his sons and daughter by not only his career as an artist, but by his massive personality. It’s a role that truly required and over-the-top persona to pull off. Hoffman also plays well off of his fellow stars and it’s very interesting and powerful to see his transformation as a person and how this, in turn, creates an evolution among his children. He is the key to all the drama this movie presents and he handles it marvelously.

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Aside from the great trio that lead the film, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” as a story is a great one to experience. It’s a down to earth look at a family of misfits who think they are more than they truly are in the great big world around them. Sure they have some successes, but they also have faults they refuse to acknowledge and that keeps them from reaching their own personal potentials. Even Stiller’s Matthew, a big shot who started his own business, doesn’t have everything he wants as his marriage is falling apart.

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Despite all the dramatic tension though director and writer Noah Baumbach manages to keep it lighthearted mixing in smash cuts and subtle dialogue that are sure to bring out chuckles or even downright scream laughs if you’re in the right mood. The timing is spot on, the story is relatable, the characters feel real, and the film takes itself just seriously enough to have substance but not too seriously so as to ignore the natural comedic talents of its leading actors. It’s a complete project that brings out the best in everyone involved while handing us a story worth watching and embracing if for not other reason than to realize somewhere in this mess of personalities is all of us, whether it’s the awkward antisocial sibling, the could-have-been-great sibling, or the overachiever who truly hasn’t achieved anything.

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“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is an odd film, but it’s an odd film worthy of recognition. It’s a charming and fun ride with a great moral center, quality laughs, and a cast who is as solid as ever. It’s not absolutely perfect, but it’s good enough to keep the viewer entertained while bombarding them with subtle and effective messages of personal growth, family, and identity. The year 2017 has been light on really good comedies, but I think that “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is one of the best so far. It’s a true testament to what can be accomplished when the right director/writer and the right actors come together and commit to a project that has a heart and soul of its own worth bringing out for the audience to appreciate. As far as dramadies go “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is the full package and it’s worth a look and, most likely, a good laugh for not only the action on screen, but also the realization within yourself that your story is mixed in with this batch of misfits somewhere just waiting to be realized.

 

 

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