By Grace Mottley
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” takes funnymen Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler and puts them onto a stage to emotionally and rawly depict the desperation often tied to family dynamics. It’s not a comedy, as Netflix outlandishly suggests, but a drama that will make you reexamine how you feel about your family.
The movie depicts the Meyerowitz family, centered around the father, Harold Meyerowtiz (Dustin Hoffman), a formerly famous abstract artist, and his three children, Danny (Sandler), Matthew (Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). The story focuses on Danny and Matthew’s relationship with their father, highlighting the extreme ends of negative parent-child dynamics.
Harold has spent his whole life attempting to convince Matthew to follow in his artistic footsteps that he is disappointed in his son’s successful career as a businessman. Danny, on the other hand, has spent his life isolated from Harold, and has become a stay-at-home dad along with failed attempts at becoming a pianist. The exact reason why Harold is disappointed in Matthew, not for following in his artistic footsteps in order to make money, is the exact opposite as to why he is disappointed in Danny’s inability to find a job.
Jean, the only daughter in the story, is largely ignored. The film as a whole lacks strong female characters who are well-developed on their own merit. Jean and Eliza, Danny’s daughter, solely exist to prop up the other male characters and give them opportunities to grow.
While speaking of Eliza, she makes strange pornographic films that her father and grandfather readily and happily accept. This just adds a strange quality to the movie that leaves you feeling icky and really uncomfortable.
As the family faces obstacles, tensions rise and flare, highlighting and developing the nature of the children’s relationship with their father. The characters’ childhoods are pivotal to this storyline, as the crux of the relationship with their father is based on some sort of mistreatment during their youths. However, we don’t truly understand their childhood, and it’s merely explained in bits and pieces that don’t make sense.
The audience is not shown the past and made to believe it, but merely told “This is what happened, just accept it,” by the lack of development of the characters’ pasts.
Many of the plotlines in this story go underdeveloped. The movie attempts to cover the complexities of family life and dynamics, which is admittedly hard to do, but drops the ball in that attempt. The writers spread themselves too thin, and the plotlines, like Matthew’s son and Eliza’s abandonment of Danny, go largely unexplored. It’s pointless to introduce story arcs that go largely unfulfilled.
The themes throughout the movie still shine through despite these extraneous plotlines. Harold’s abandonment of two-thirds of his children leave lasting impacts on them. His over-involvement in Matthew’s life leads down a different road, one that doesn’t strive to please his father but escape him instead. All the children’s actions throughout the movie demonstrate the varying ways our parents and their expectations leave marks on us.
The movie as a whole is a good one. It leaves you thinking about the dynamic between you and your parents, and the indelible mark they’re leaving on you. The acting truly brings the characters to life, and they do a good job with what they have.