Thursday, April 25, 2024

Oscars 2018: Almost Ignored, Adam Sandler’s Surprise Turn in the Stunning “Meyerowitz Stories” Needs Another Look


I don’t know why, but for some reason there’s been almost no Oscar campaign for Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories.” Gold Derby, a thing I deplore, lists it at number 46 of all the possible Best Picture choices. This is ludicrous. Baumbach’s textured screenplay featuring pitch perfect performances from Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace van Patten and Judd Hirsch is being ignored. Is it because it’s a Netflix film? “Meyerowitz” played in theaters. It’s eligible for every award. And it’s a shonda. But it’s not too late.

Wait: Did I mention Candice Bergen’s literally show stopping scene as one of Harold Meyerowitz’s ex wives, the mother of Ben Stiller’s Matthew? Like all of the extended cameos– Adam Driver, Mickey Sumner et al– the characters are fully realized little gems. If Bergen had two more scenes, she’d be up for Best Supporting Actress.

So Harold Meyerowitz is a sculptor who almost made it in the 60s. Instead he taught at Bard College while his friend, LJ Shapiro, played by Hirsch, jumped ahead to fame. You can tell Harold is a victim of his own ego, his own worst enemy. He’s been married four times. The second wife bore him Danny (Sandler) and Jean (Marvel.) Then he married Bergen’s character. Or something like that. They had Matthew (Stiller) whom Harold clearly favors, idolizes. Danny and Jean, on the other hand, are kind of lovable losers.

Harold’s fourth and current wife, Maureen, drinks like a fish, makes bad meals. She is hippie-dippie but smarter than you think. The Meyerowitzes are a fully dysfunctional New York family, very much out of Woody Allen and JD Salinger and even Laurie Colwin. But they are also every family–black, white, Jewish, Catholic. They are so identifiably “your family” it’s insane.

Adam Sandler is the revelation as Danny. Finally reined in (although you can seem him straining) Sandler drops that horrible manchild voice of his and becomes a leading man. He has to be nominated for an Oscar. All the Oscar-noticators are breathing hard over Gary Oldman, hoping for Daniel Day Lewis or Tom Hanks, pushing for Jake Gyllenhaal or Timothee Chalamet. But Sandler is standing right there in front of them. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it’s true. (Plus I love that his unseen wise friend is named Ptolemy.)

Hoffman– now he’s embroiled in one of these idiotic sex harassment things. Forget it. This is one of the great performances of an amazing career. Harold Meyerowitz is his own piece of art. (I think his art is supposed to be based on the actually very successful Joel Shapiro.) Harold is just barely aware of anything or anyone around. At one point he and Stiller–also working at highest level– are at a restaurant table literally talking over each other, ignoring what the other is saying– this is a clip for the Oscars.

There’s so much going on in this funny, sweet, and sad movie. It was released (somehow) right before this whole spate of women revealing horrible sexual things done to them by men. Marvel’s Jean is one of them. Her revelation, her story, which is presciently like a lot of the real women who’ve spoken in the last month, can bring you to tears. Marvel is a marvel. I’m surprised no one’s picked up on this.

Thompson is just a great fruit loop. I’ve rarely seen her so deeply embedded. It’s like she’s in a trance, that she’s been hypnotized into Maureen.

The screenplay is different, it’s not perfect or seamless. At least, it is for a while and then in its hospital section the segues disappear and it’s almost as if it’s a series of blackout sketches. This didn’t bother. The scenes have the same cumulative effect. The whole family goes on vigil at the hospital. And the net net is that Baumbach captures the scenario perfectly. There isn;t a person who watches “Meyerowitz” who doesn’t get the uncomfortable feeling Baumbach was following them around.

This is a long Oscar season. It’s also lackluster. We see “Dunkirk” as a de facto winner, “Lady Bird” (by, coincidentally, Baumbach’s other half, Greta Gerwig) as “charming” and “perfect.” And then what? “Shape of Water,” “Call Me By Your Name.”  “Mudbound” is the serious one. This is the least focused season I can recall in two decades. But it’s time to throw “Meyerowitz” back in the game. It’s just genius, and forgetting it is really a big mistake.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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