Writer and director Noah Baumbach has made a career out of portraying self-absorbed characters on screen, characters who are so consumed with their own views of the world that they almost end up living in a separate reality. And with Harold Meyerowitz, the center of Baumbach’s new Netflix movie The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), he may have created his greatest.
Harold Meyerowitz, as played by Dustin Hoffman, is a New York sculptor who feels his work was never given the due it deserves. He’s on his fourth marriage, and has three grown children, two from his second marriage, another from his third. We spend much of our time with the children—the recently divorced Danny, played by Adam Sandler, his sister Jean, and their half-brother, Ben Stiller’s Matthew. And even though Baumbach is ostensibly telling their stories, we see through each of them that Harold is always there, in the background, informing everything they do.
If Darren Aronofsky’s mother! was a deeply abstract examination of the perils of living with a narcissistic artist, The Meyerowitz Stories is an equally effective look at the literal damage that such a person can do. Each of the children has their own lives, yes, but they’re all lived in the periphery of Harold’s world—all of their actions, all of their fortunes are because of the impact Harold has had on them and the resentments and loneliness they’ve built up over years and years of living with their father. Danny has anger issues and is reminded frequently by Harold that he’s rarely held a job, Matthew has gone the complete opposite direction and has moved 3,000 miles away to become an extremely successful financial manager, far from Harold and his creative pursuits. And Jean… we’re never quite sure about Jean.
The movie is talky, and may cause problems if you’re tired of New York intellectuals jabbering on, but the writing is deeply sharp and deeply felt, Hoffman is the best he’s been in decades, and even Adam Sandler turns in a sympathetic and nuanced performance. The Meyerowitz Stories shows us the power our parents have to shape our lives and how even when we think we’re escaping, chances are we can never really get away.