The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) ★★★★

I keep thinking of subtle lines this draws to Baumbach's earlier films: the opening and closing scenes particularly reflect back on Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale respectively; but like that other modern auteur of hilarious discomfort, Todd Solondz, Baumbach has warmed up with age. Whereas he once had us gawking in horror at the way the privileged screwups at the center of his screenplays mirrored those of us watching, from Greenberg onward it's more like he dares us not to love the equally fucked up people he now brings to our attention. There is a great deal of heart and humanity in this portrait of the shattered lives of three siblings who were unmistakably rowed up shit creek by an aloof artist father (Dustin Hoffman) who had no business having children; now they all flinch and cringe at the presentation of unconditional love and are all too forgiving of the toxic behavior they've known since they were infants. And yet, somewhere, there's hope -- maybe just in the wide-eyed self-possession of a young woman (Grace Van Patten) whose belief in herself, whatever the merits of her own art (as yet, no better than her self-regarding grandfather's), are the obvious marker of a supportive relationship with her fractured family, or maybe in the fact that her dad, the doormat Danny (Adam Sandler), seems to be gradually learning to assert himself. Whatever the case, there's ample feeling and Baumbach's usual profound sense of the awkward weight of reality, the sensation that we're watching real relationships, if not real life, unfold. I've not mentioned the flawless performances of Dustin Hoffman*, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, nor have I mentioned how funny it is. Perhaps there's a case to be made that we don't need another movie about a deeply sequestered family of New York artists; but if we can't accept that there's something universal in a story of an extremely complicated family all of whom have mixed feelings about each other while being unable to see the expanse of the world outside of said family and their various definitions of "the work," then my feeling is that there's no such thing as "universal" in fiction storytelling.

* It's entirely correct and proper that Hoffman's film career has seemingly ended for the reasons it has but the magnificence of this final performance certainly does offer a good example of what a shame it is guys like that are such monumental creeps. It's way way way down the list of awful things caused by the handsy, invasive, misogynistic behavior of powerful men like this who think (often correctly) that they're invincible, but we've also lost the chance to see more performances like this from him, and it's his fault, and fuck him for causing that.