The Meyerowitz Stories Tries Too Hard to be a Woody Allen Knockoff

A stellar cast and a slow moving script define Noah Baumbach's newest movie, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival last week and is now playing in select theaters. The film portrays the story of an aging father, played by Dustin Hoffman, and the effect his narcissism and lack of nurturing had on his children, who are now wounded adults suffering from insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Ben Stiller is the baby brother from another mother who is emotionally and geographically estranged from his two older siblings, played by Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel. The three of them join together and wallow in family dysfunction when their father becomes ill.

The first half of The Meyerowitz Stories drags along, but picks up and hangs on as new characters enter the picture. Emma Thompson is the new stepmother who lacks interest in the grown up trio of kids from her husband's previous marriages. Candice Bergen plays an ex-wife and the mother of Ben Stiller. Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, and a brief appearance by Sigourney Weaver also perk up the film, but this dialogue-heavy family interaction movie starts and stops throughout. The film appears to be imitating the angst and stream of consciousness style of a Woody Allen movie. But the rhythm and pace is slow and unsteady. The emotions portrayed by the well-established and talented actors repeat without variation each scene to the next, and the film leaves the audience with no real resolution at the end.

This was perhaps the best performance of Ben Stiller's career. He wasn't Ben Stiller playing a Ben Stiller-type character, rather his acting was highly nuanced and carved out the most interesting sibling of the trio, the one child whose life was not outwardly crippled by the emotional baggage left by his uncaring father. Dustin Hoffman, on the other hand, disappoints as the sculptor, imperfect father and husband who offers his children zero human emotional connection or protection. Hoffman plods through the role in a muttering, monotone without giving us any insight into the man who created three devoted, yet apparently unloved children.

Baumbach’s other movies about family, like Margot at the Wedding, and The Squid and the Whale, were great vehicles for the audience to emotionally connect with their characters. This film, despite the amazing cast, seems like it was trying too hard to be a Woody Allen knockoff.

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