Please excuse this voice from the chorus of your fans coming out of the dark. I just finished watching The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) with my partner of many years, the family of two we made anew. I’m compelled to write you this letter and hope that it finds you (well), like an imaginary newspaper of old’s Letters to the Editor section or a full-page ad somewhere prominent, or, at least, local to you. I see now that the work has been roundly celebrated, understood and discussed passionately, sending a ribbon of empathy, compassion and unvarnished feeling through the connected/disconnected world – something both rare in some noisier corners of film criticism & fandom today, and highly important. I had not seen this film (even as a fan of all your work to date) as I’ve been lately in a type of self-psychotherapeutic exile buried in my own project (literary) which deals with themes of family fractures, connection, geographies, loss, and reckoning. A mid-life Bildungsroman, you know. But the arena you tell your stories in is the only one I can really love watching anymore (aside from the odd “razzle dazzle” epic that can make me feel like a kid again). I am one of those that needs a steady drip of utter truth and earnestness in my favourite art form. And as I’m sure you know, your film is courageous and powerful. It is full of the fearlessness to love, and also to say “I love you. I forgive you. Thank you. Goodbye.”
First off, it should be noted that The Meyerowitz Stories is very funny indeed, with its genuine family dinner table madness that echoes its truth to points far and wide beyond the New York of reality and viewers imaginations both; as far as Canada and other places besides. The discomfort illustrated at pulling at threads of love, hope, being ignored, jostling to be heard, struggling through inedible food and space while maintaining the social contract is simply wholly accurate and beautifully rendered. Those dinners, fraught as they are, are sometimes all there is to pick through to find a morsel that will do in one’s memories.
Dustin Hoffman in fully-silver-bearded patriarch mode, and Emma Thompson as his wife he dotes on (3rd/4th as she is, getting both the later in life spoils and hardships of of loving a temperamental artist and man) are each an utter delight to see, separately and together, revolutionary as ever, insisting that we are hard pressed to make ‘em like we used to, though we must never stop aiming high. That our actors are our worthiest heroes in this rotten world. Their divine channeling of these characters is as full of comic brilliance as ever, they simply radiate through their talent and sensitivity as artists. It is affecting. The casting throughout is perfect, from relative newcomer Grace Van Patten, imbuing depth and chops that link all the threads of family fractures together (believably, not too neatly) to the lead actors, particularly the rarely-so-pitch-perfect Adam Sandler as her dad, embodying the sadness of eldest children everywhere who have a unique viewpoint on their families apart from anyone else who may be louder, more successful, or more entitled. Even if they are rarely listened to. Elizabeth Marvel is an understated joy as Jean, whose hunched-shouldered sister and witness to much gets a beautiful denouement in her delightfully weird run into the woods, where she finally gets the two brothers she needed years ago to rally, in a timely, honest moment of our current female roar of “Me too.” All this, and you write and cast women this well, at a time we need it more than ever, too.
The magic of this film is assured inside of the first two minutes on screen: as Danny (Sandler) and his about-to-go-to-college daughter Eliza (Van Patten) negotiate Manhattan traffic to the score of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “Head to Toe”, a song he’s raised her (right) to appreciate. Who these two are to each other, their precious bond built over invisible moments, out of sight, for decades, is immediately real. Stated simply in this scene is one of the film’s perfectly sculpted themes: Eliza is Danny’s artistry and, to date, his life’s work. And a beautiful one. Not subject to debate. Eliza is where he’s put his heart, his eye, his talent. And also, his family of now two, is one he made from the ugly lump of clay he inherited and was given. His music and her films are unquestionably interesting, artful and good, as well. Even, original. For that matter, Emma Thompson’s drunk acting and ‘sympathetic/trustworthy?’ portrayal is equally strong. We contain multitudes, we do.
To me, one of the great themes of this wholly artful film that leaves no ungainly seams but still room for the audience to embellish past the end credits, is the idea that maybe there’s an artist in all of us. Despite legacy, DNA, opportunities, connections, luck (good or bad) neglect or being utterly spoiled. That we all have that once-cursed word so many of us heard as children, to no avail: “potential”. We are, despite what psychology and families and self-help books; despite AA; despite the effects of the up or the down pill or if we take ‘em both; all capable of self-invention and re-creation. And that this is a beautiful, freeing notion, but also, that it’s incumbent on us to glean this and act upon it. That timing matters, too. That no one will pull us out of our dumps but ourselves. The natural-born artist can still happen. He makes opportunities for himself, takes risks, and as ever, is promised nothing. Like Danny, we are stars of our own movies even if we’ve been made to feel like bit players or second-class citizens. And even if some of us watching in the darkness erupt into hysterical tears at that very line, in painful but clean recognition.
The subtle themes of the film begin to roll upon us like waves from the Malibu we love but have never been to in the final third of the story. A few of them being: the incremental changes that adults can bring to their own lives in times of crisis, turning that embarrassing crisis into a fleeting but significant sea change that appears, from a distance, like just a limping sidestep. That we are stuck with our familial, dutiful love that may be wholly unsatisfying, even painful, but, hey, we are deepened by pain. That we might transmute it, if we are good and loving people, like sleight of hand that looks easy but has taken unseen hours to perfect. That along with self-creation that many people need to survive in badly fractured families, the next generation might turn around and display the artist “gene” that skipped a generation, safely baffled from the scars of being its direct descendant and having to see (feel) how that art got made, who got hurt, and how blinding that was up close. Can take it forth, making everyone proud. The questions of legacy, the frustrated artist, dealing with the brazenness of people who invade our space and don’t give us our “due”, and my god, the way parents will talk their child up to their other child but never directly, means you not only have a razor-sharp memory and ear for humanity itself, but had microphones implanted in homes like ours, which felt singularly demented and frustrating, but with time and distance can be seen as the universal absurdity life always is, at the end of the day. In the twilight years. Hell, throw on a tux, why don’t we? You never know.
On top of all of this, your interrogation of life and acute pain for families (and solo bedside sitters, too) around hospitals and health crises is impossibly resonant to us. Yes, how did you know? Our doctor went on vacation right at that moment. We’re sure the one nurse we latched on to wants an update in the hall, weeks later, our case could not be forgotten. We never know, do we, if they’ve got this under control or if you need word for word notes or to raise a ruckus to save him with your angry voice. Not until, and if, he comes home. And then, what will he remember? Did you earn any credit? Are you seen? Nothing in recent memory has been this waterworks-filled resonant, and also this funny as this film. It is symphonic. We aren’t symphony people. It’s The Cure’s Disintegration. Transcendent, oceanic, true, dark, but steers you home. I was even able to recover from my lifelong fear of standard white poodles watching this film. For it is Harold’s “charge”! The dialogue, the script is a master class to be studied for years. We non-actors will be using “my charge” for months to come. We will look for opportunities to say “BRAZEN!” and we may just steal a sip of red wine in protest. Protest. We must protest.
Netflix is where we find gems like this new film of yours now. And we are thankful for its curators. Nothing, no matter how good it is, gets the years to build and be studied and gain the prominence of old when time moved so much slower, and everything got to simmer, bake, and cool in our public imagination, in crowded theaters full of people who knew art was essential to our lives on the big screen, films that might play for years; that there was such a thing as grown up movies (that would also be needed and taken up by sensitive and keen 12 and 14-year olds, future filmmakers, and old souls alike). You’ve never put something out to the world that did not resonate, move us, make us think, or hold hands tightly. But this is something broader, deeper and more understanding of multiple perspectives, with such love (and worlds within worlds) than I’ve seen in a very long time. I simply add my voice to the chorus of praise for your new work which can stand on a fine bookshelf like your others as proudly as we do with hard cover books we buy for good, enriched just by their tangible existence and their forever homey-book smell, treasures to be displayed, even though we know them by heart.
“There he is.” I’m a puddle. Thank you for this.