France Today correspondent Anne McCarthy is on location in Cannes to cover the famous film festival. For more of her dispatches and reviews, click here.
In the second showing from Netflix at Cannes Film Festival – the first being the widely lauded Okja – director Noah Baumbach debuted his latest film, The Meyerowitz Stories.
The film boasts a formidable cast of Hollywood heavyweights: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller. (Baumbach and Stiller collaborated in the past on Greenberg.)
“I thought the first 30 to 40 pages were pretty slow, and then then my character showed up on page 41…” joked Stiller at Sunday’s press conference for the film. “And when I heard that Dustin Hoffman would be auditioning to play the dad…” this got laughs from the press, as the idea that – titan among actors that he is – Dustin Hoffman would need to audition for anything these days, is laughable.
The film opened to loud applause on Sunday, and continued to delight the audience from the opening applause to the final one. Laughter was heard throughout the theater during the screening, as the comedic chops of the cast were put on display, with Hoffman stealing the show in the title role as a bearded, aging artist who has troubled relationships with his children.
Thompson plays Hoffman’s wife, Maureen. She is not-too-sober, and has a dreamy, hippy-dippy quality that makes Thompson disappear well into the role, along with the character’s American accent. Though one can still make out her famous comedic talents beneath the beads and flowy tops. With lines like: “I’m making pigeon for dinner” and “[he] was baby-faced but sinewy, like an old lover of mine, Willem Dafoe,” Thompson brings the laughs.
The film focuses on Harold Meyerowtiz – a well-known in his field (yet non-mainstream) sculptor/artist, who has made a recent foray into creating wood structures – and his children, Matthew (Stiller), Danny (Sandler), and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).
The first story is Danny’s – played with humor and heartfelt punch by Adam Sandler. The actor said at the film’s press conference on Sunday, noting that he was a comedian among more classically dramatic actors:
“It’s different for a comedian when you get an offer like this,” he said. “My first thought is, ‘I don’t want to let anybody down and work as hard as I can to know the material and be as good as I can be.’”
Sandler, despite his worries, smashed it. His performance as a “house husband” father and caring son pulls at the heart and the smile muscles. He is brilliant, and affirms his place – despite his own reservations – in the dramatic genre of cinema (see Punch Drunk Love – another Cannes Film Festival pick from years ago – for further proof of Sandler’s dramatic talents).
He plays a father to Eliza, a college-aged kid who goes off to Bard to study film. “I didn’t make it one year in college because I liked drugs too much,” he tells her. The exchange exemplifies their relationship; one that’s so open and candid I don’t know a father-daughter pair like them.
Eliza is off to school to make artsy, highly sexual film shorts. The films are endearingly supported by her father, despite the films’ content, which would undoubtedly make many dads blush. Instead, he praises her talent. He’s proud of her, in a way that is that exact opposite to how his father has treated him.
In another story, we meet Matthew, played with intensity and trademark sarcasm by Ben Stiller– Meyerowitz’s favorite child. Harold speaks of Matthew often, praising his successes and even naming one of his most notable sculpture works “Matthew” and making his computer password “Matthew” as well. The son – half-brother to Danny and Jean – works in wealth management.
(In a side scene, yet a noteworthy one for the subtle comedy, HBO’s Girls star Adam Driver pops up as one of Matthew’s clients, as he consults with Matthew about how he can afford his swimming pool. Will the line of coffee beans be sufficient enough to fund it?)
Danny and Jean resent Matthew. He was – and is – the favorite. Later stories include Jean’s. She is played with depth and a quirky, understated charisma by Elizabeth Marvel. Marvel’s story was a side one, and her talents were decidedly underused in the film.
Candice Bergen pops up in a brilliant performance as Matthew’s mother. When Harold visits her with Matthew, he insists (after they leave her apartment) that she was flirting with him, and that: “she succumbed to this fashionable, anti-art outlook. That’s why we have a Congress full of Republicans.”
When Harold has an unexpected hospital visit, and the sale of the gorgeous, two-story family apartment is complete (Harold bought it in 1973 for $60,000, Matthew urged him to cash in) – to the outrage of Danny and the relief of Matthew – the story takes a turn. In a way most (well, some) family stories take a turn after tragedy: it draws the family closer together. The third act of the film is the one with the most weight and the most heart.
Baumbach’s film, mostly set in New York City, makes the city a character unto itself, as so many Big Apple-based films do. It casts the city in all its New Yorkian glory of a concrete jungle, where art is celebrated and where – to use a cliché that is one because it fits – things happen in a New York minute. The twinkling piano accompaniment soundtrack feels as New York as Billy Joel eating a slice of Ray’s pizza in Union Square.
As a film funded by Netflix, The Meyerowitz Stories will be in your home theater, viewable by sofa, quite soon. Be on the lookout for it, as it’s not one to miss.