You might call Noah Baumbach the latter day chronicler of the neurotic, having seemingly taken that mantle from Woody Allen. He’s been on a pretty good streak, form collaborating with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr Fox and The Life Aquatic, to his own auteur work, the superb Frances Ha, While We’re Young, The Squid and the Whale. He seems adept at chronicling characters who are intelligent, yet sometimes staggeringly dumb; successful yet unassured; capable of love but conflicted in and around that very emotion.
His latest, The Myerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is story about family, who in the absence of religion place their faith, stock and guilt in art, and personal success. In it, success not in art is not well regarded or accepted; lack of success, likewise (the title works both as a reflection of the film’s structure, and a linguistic nod to the setting of the art world & its periphery).
A couple of things jump out at you from this piece, performance-wise. One, it seems to be something of a reminder of how good Dustin Hoffman is – or can be given the right material – and how seemingly underused he has been of late. As Harold, the patriarch of this clan, he hits every note perfectly; it seems a seamless, note perfect, occasionally very funny performance, a habitation of character that this veteran has not had the chance of late to do. Also, Adam Sandler is really good in this. Occasionally throughout his career, Sandler’s ‘actor for hire’ performances have shown that he has range, that there is talent under the man-boy persona which made his career in the likes of Billy Madison and The Waterboy. And much like in Spanglish and Punch Drunk Love, we see a performer who can play the part well, to work within the confines of drama; who can show anger and not play it for laughs.
Baumbach adapts a more literary than cinematic style; his scenes end – sometimes mid-sentence – and we move to the next chapter, much like a reader browsing through a collection of short stories, or an old Monty Python sketch, which just ends. It’s a style which seems jarring at first, but when you look at it as being a kind of reflection on moments, the scenes begin and abruptly end as they would upon reminiscing: we jump back and forth; our memories don’t complete full scenes.
Baumbach, as an auteur, is emerging as someone who genuinely understands the complexities of the human experience. He’s not hit a false note so far; The Myerowitz Stories is no exception.
Currently streaming on Netflix