New York is famously home to some wacky characters and cinema has often sought to capture that 'New York spirit' in the stories it tells. Film makers build personalities around the New York ethos - the stories of the quirky, rushed, community driven but isolated individuals that inhabit the famous city.
Noah Baumbach's Meyerowitz Stories is one such story. It's the tale of a family headed by semi-successful sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) that comes together and falls apart on repeat for its near two-hour runtime. After a medical incident, Harold's two sons, Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller), and daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), rally together to support each other and their father despite their estrangement from one another. But honouring your father isn't always as easy as it appears to be, especially when they're as neurotic as Harold.
The Meyerowitz Stories is a fascinating exploration into the minds of the all the major players in a dysfunctional family jammed with exceptional performances. The film is broken into sections - handily titled or surmised with a title plaque like those you may see in a gallery - to give us greater insight into one character or situation at a time. We start with recently separated Danny as he desperately tries to park his car in busy Manhattan with his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) in a comical sequence where the viewer is rammed into the car with the pair, the camera squeezed in between them, not just seeing their relationship but feeling it. Later we join Matthew, Harold's favourite son, who has escaped to LA and returned for lunch with his father, but no restaurant lives up to Harold's standards. We then have several shorter episodes, a group episode, a short Jean episode, and so on.
The genius of Mereyowitz is in its weighty screenplay. This is a puff pastry of a family narrative - it's layered. The dialogue flows but no one is listening to one another. It's almost like the audience are absorbing two conversations at once which is an extremely efficient way to build characters. We hear their life stories in a way that's completely self absorbed and yet somehow desperate for attention or affection, depending on who is speaking. It's that tension, those hidden desires, that bring the heart to the film. It's also a testament to what happens when you make funny people do something serious; you get something seriously funny.
Whilst its final third loses its pacing somewhat, the editing of the sections becoming somewhat jarring, it more than makes up for it with its brilliant performances, witty writing, and touching dramedy.