Film Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

With The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Noah Baumbach delivers another great comedy drama. Strong performances and excellent writing combine to generate a absorbing picture. 

Harold Meyerowitz is a retired sculptor and a dysfunctional father. His adult children try to organise an exhibition of his work, but are hindered by their relationships with each other, Harold’s wife Maureen, and Harold himself…

Writer-director Noah Baumbach tackles family dynamics with his latest film. The Meyerowitz Stories centres on ageing sculptor and his three middle-aged children. Viewers get to explore various dynamics as the film progresses, although the action is focused on Harold and his two sons.  

The relationship between the family is revealed at a good pace. Baumbach is careful not to reveal too much too early. Yet it works well that viewers hear about the prodigal son before he appears on screen. What also functions well is that the audience see interactions between Harold and his sons separately, before these siblings share screen time. 

Characters in the film are developed in a natural way. Viewers are presented with initial archetypes, but these develop in a convincing manner, and are fleshed out beyond any stereotype. The writing is fantastic; characters converse in a natural manner. There is welcome humour among the serious conversation and dramatic realisations. The film could have done with more of Jean; there is certainly more to this character than the snapshot which is revealed.

Themes of extended family disagreements and a father with shortcomings play out well. The Meyerowitz Stories reaches a conclusion that feels realistic, rather than a forced ending. Dustin Hoffman is great, as are Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. Yet it is the women who intrigue in supporting roles. Emma Thompson is wonderful, and Elizabeth Marvel stands out as Jean.

Noah Baumbach delivers yet again, showing a continuing talent for astute writing and assured directing. 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is being screened at BFI London Film Festival in October 2017. The film will be released in selected cinemas and on Netflix on 13th October 2017.

Film Review: Barney’s Version

Barney Panofsky is sometimes an abhorrent protagonist, but this does not make his story any less interesting. Barney’s Version is an intriguing drama brimmed with great performances.

Barney Panofsky is a hard-drinking television producer, who has led a rather interesting life. Despite only being in love once, Barney has been married three times. His tumultuous life has provided moments of happiness and regret…

Told through a series of flashbacks, Barney’s Version focuses on the significant events of the protagonist’s adult life. These are dominated by Barney’s three marriages, but also feature his relationship with family and friends. Richard J. Lewis directs Barney’s Version with equanimity. The film spends sufficient time exploring Barney’s character, yet never feels stagnant.

Barney’s Version effectively combines drama with comedy and romance, as well as a rather intriguing mystery. This amalgamation of genres allows the audience to experience an array of emotions, much like Barney himself. The film seems to slide effortlessly from comedy to drama, thanks to Michael Konyves screenplay, based on Mordecai Richler’s novel.

Barney Panofsky is not the average movie protagonist. For starters, he is not conventionally attractive, yet manages to attract beautiful women. He has his vices, yet has also carved out a successful career for himself. He acts rashly and incomprehensibly, yet is still loved by his wife. For the numerous mistakes Barney makes, he also elicits sympathy and laughter.

Barney’s Version‘s supporting characters are as well developed as the protagonist. Miriam may love Barney regardless of his flaws, but she is initially wary of his intentions, understandably so. Miriam is perhaps character most identified with in the film, sharing with the audience a dubiousness about the central character. Barney’s father Izzy is depicted as having similar flaws as his son. Nevertheless, Izzy seems to have a greater appreciation of family not fully realised by his son. It is through these characters that both the best and worst of Barney’s persona is revealed.

Paul Giamatti gives one of his finest performances as Barney. He is thoroughly convincing as the title character, and excellent in exuding both humour and sadness. Rosamund Pike is perfect as the soft-spoken Miriam, while Minnie Driver is feisty as the second Mrs Panofsky. Dustin Hoffman brings empathy and fragility as Izzy, and Scott Speedman is bright as Boogie.

The makeup department have done excellent work in Barney’s Version. Despite the film covering a period longer than thiry years, Barney and Miriam are always believable in their appearance.  Pasquale Catalano’s beautiful score is utilised effectively in the film.

Barney’s Version is a well-executed film, with Lewis getting the best out of his cast. A highly recommended film.

Film Review: Little Fockers

The third instalment of the Meet the Parents franchise, Little Fockers is mildly amusing at times but fails to offer anything new. Hopefully this will be the final film in the series, despite the decent box office returns thus far.

As the fifth birthday of his twins approaches, Greg decides to moonlight for a drugs company in order to pay the bills. Greg is getting on well with his father-in-law Jack, who asks Greg to be the new head of the family. Chaos ensues, however, when Jack begins to have suspicions about Greg’s work…

Little Fockers is incredibly formulaic, rehashing the same ideas and narrative devices from the first two films. There appears to be no evolution in the relationship between Greg and Jack, as the same old dynamics come into play yet again. Characters from the first two films fulfil the same roles, never straying into new territory. Furthermore, there appears to be a rather gaping plot hole for anyone who has seen the first film. In Little Fockers Jack wants Greg to take over as head of the family. It is never mentioned that Jack has a son of his own, or why he would prefer Greg in this role rather than his own son. The omission of Jack and Dina’s son could have been referred to in the rather forgettable second instalment Meet the Fockers, but this oversight nevertheless indicates lazy writing.

Little Fockers employs the same style of humour as the first two films. Innuendo is mixed together with slapstick and crude jokes. While Meet the Parents had some great physical comedy, the set-ups in Little Fockers are mildly amusing at best, rather than hilarious.

Little Fockers features many of the same characters from the first two films. These characters fall into the same patterns as the last film; there is no sense of development. Equally, none of the actors are stretched in Little Fockers. Robert De Niro phones in his performance; it is rather sad to see him parodying a role that brought him great acclaim with the ‘GodFocker’ nonsense. Owen Wilson’s Kevin was one of the funniest characters in Meet the Parents, but a poor script lets down an enthusiastic performance in this episode.

Little Fockers introduces a few new minor characters. Paul Weitz’s film has a stellar cast featuring De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Harvey Keitel. Yet Keitel and Laura Dern are underused, while Jessica Alba is at times awful as drug rep Andi.

Little Fockers is a rather tired and unimaginative movie. The promise of the all-star cast is ultimately let down by a lacklustre script that does not deliver.