Watched: 20 October
Noah Baumbach is on good form yet again here, and while I’ll add a few ‘blah blahs’ around the oft-used statement that blah blah it’s the kind of film Woody Allen used to make blah blah, there’s more than a hint of truth in that: even the font used on this film’s title cards is designed to bring Allen to mind, though to what end is anyone’s guess; Baumbach has made his own name as an independent filmmaker and writer of some skill, so it seems like a strange move for him to acknowledge his debt to the older filmmaker at this stage of his career. Maybe it’s just a simple, heartfelt homage to a personal hero.
Like Allen, the younger writer/director is also very much at home in the upper-middle class, wealthy-family-on-the-peripheries-of-the-art-world New York milieu, and here he draws out excellent performances from Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson (slightly underused) and Elizabeth Marvel, as patriarchal sculptor Harold Meyerowitz, current wife Maureen and Jean Meyerowitz respectively, the latter Harold’s daughter from one of his former marriages. Yet the film revolves more around the central pair of Meyerowitz step-brothers, Danny and Matthew, played by Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, both of whom vault high over the rather low bars they’ve set themselves in recent years. The two comic actors share some great scenes with Hoffman during the early part of the film and Marvel during the latter, but it’s Sandler who you remember afterwards, particularly for the way that he successfully conveys Danny’s tenderness towards his own daughter and the daughter of a family friend (Rebecca Miller) during a few quiet, wonderfully acted scenes.
The overall effect is like a less-outlandish, less-overtly comedic version of The Royal Tenenbaums, even echoing that film’s notion of a family of high achievers (into which Danny does not quite fit, for numerous reasons). It is sometimes very funny, with some technical flourishes in the editing that actually contribute something towards our understanding of the scene we’re watching, and also towards the slow revelation of the characters’ personalities, something I consider as different to the idea of character development. (****)