A fam­ily tale told art­fully

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - FRA­ZIER MOORE NEW YORK —

Your first re­sponse to “The Meyerowitz Sto­ries (New and Se­lected)” may very well be: Adam San­dler is good — RE­ALLY good — in his sen­si­tive, nu­anced por­trayal as Danny, the out­sider son in the Meyerowitz brood.

The open­ing scene finds Danny be­side El­iza, his teenage daugh­ter (Grace Van Pat­ten), as he tries to score a park­ing space in New York City. A de­voted fa­ther who will soon lose El­iza to col­lege, he is a tan­gle of ten­der­ness, wist­ful­ness and pent-up rage at the wheel in this fruit­less search.

That’s just the be­gin­ning of a bit­ter­sweet, of­ten very funny fam­ily por­trait writ­ten and di­rected by Noah Baum­bach (“Frances Ha,” “The Squid and the Whale”). Avail­able Fri­day on Net­flix, it’s brought to life by an all-star en­sem­ble also in­clud­ing Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoff­man, Emma Thomp­son, El­iz­a­beth Mar­vel, Judd Hirsch and Candice Ber­gen.

Hoff­man plays Harold, the pa­ter­fa­mil­ias of the sprawl­ing Meyerowitz clan. A wil­ful, grandiose sculp­tor plagued by failed am­bi­tions, he moulded his three adult chil­dren in sharply dif­fer­ent ways that each still keenly suf­fers from.

Danny, a dis­ap­point­ment to Harold who fell flat as a mu­si­cian, con­tin­ues his fu­tile ef­fort to court his fa­ther’s ap­proval. Danny’s sis­ter Jean (Mar­vel) nurses the wounds of Harold’s life­long ne­glect. Mean­while, their half brother Matthew (Stiller) has tried to flee Harold’s smoth­er­ing at­ten­tion by mov­ing to L.A., where he pros­pers as a top-tier fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor.

Of course, the Meyerow­itzes have more in com­mon than they may want to ac­cept.

Th­ese “Sto­ries” are di­vided into five ti­tled sec­tions be­gin­ning with, yes, “Danny Meyerowitz was try­ing to park.” But as the ac­tion stretches over sev­eral months, with many com­pli­ca­tions and cross-cur­rents, an over­ar­ch­ing ques­tion per­sists: Is it ever too late to stake out one’s own bound­aries and nail down one’s iden­tity?

That task is per­haps most dif­fi­cult for Harold, who, now, in the au­tumn of his life and ca­reer, has more trou­ble than ever with the painful pos­si­bil­ity that his achieve­ments as a sculp­tor were no greater than the in­suf­fi­cient recog­ni­tion he re­ceived for them.

His delu­sions of grandeur are put to a se­vere test when he en­coun­ters L.J. Shapiro (Judd Hirsch), a fel­low artist and nom­i­nal friend who has en­joyed the level of suc­cess Harold still feels is his due.

But the no­tion that he might have al­ways been sec­ond-tier con­tin­ues to gnaw at his off­spring.

“If he wasn’t a great artist,” one says to an­other, “he was just a prick.”

They may won­der what the truth is, and you may, too. But the film with­holds any sim­ple an­swers on the folly or no­bil­ity of chas­ing an artis­tic dream.

Yes, Harold may have been a high-toned hack. And he be­gat Danny, the once-promis­ing pi­anist who was felled by fear of per­form­ing for an au­di­ence (“The re­ward wasn’t worth the self-ha­tred,” he says).

Mean­while, the rest of the Meyerowitz fam­ily copes with im­me­di­ate crises and long-smoul­der­ing con­flicts. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say they make some head­way. As for the ac­tors, they are uni­formly splen­did. If sin­gling out Adam San­dler seems pa­tron­iz­ing, so be it. Thanks to him in par­tic­u­lar, “The Meyerowitz Sto­ries” is a happy re­minder that, when graced with a fine script and di­rec­tor, an ac­tor can be just as sur­pris­ing as the char­ac­ter he plays.

ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ben Stiller, left, Adam San­dler and El­iz­a­beth Mar­vel in a scene from “The Meyerowitz Sto­ries.”

ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dustin Hoff­man, left, is the Meryerowitz pa­ter­fa­mil­ias and Emma Thomp­son is his ditzy fourth wife, Mau­reen.

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