A dysfunctional family reunites around their father's pending retirement.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Dustin Hoffman
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
The Meyerowitz Stories should be a film that hits close to home. I, like Ben Stiller’s Matthew, do not have a close relationship with my family. I moved across the country, putting hundreds of miles between myself and them pretty much only because I could and I wanted to. I don’t go home for holidays. I don’t particularly feel bad about any of that, despite a barely-audible, Danny-like voice in my ear wondering if maybe I should. The part of The Meyerowitz Stories that rhymes with my life, however, is also the one that makes this a frequently irritating film. I was just talking with Blair about how freeing it is to decide to not care what your parents think of you, and to see the characters here make their lives worse in pursuit of their shitty father’s approval is me knowing better than them, and I don’t know anything. Director Noah Baumbach repeatedly returns to films about sons and fathers, usually about the latter being too self-absorbed to care about the former. This is his most intense examination of that theme, but he covered all of it 13 years ago with Squid and the Whale. It’s one thing for teenagers to wake up to their father being human and fallible and a dick. It’s far less appealing when adults do the same.
This viewer is always going to be sympathetic to a story of waking up to the lazy falsehoods of unexamined tradition, and Come Sunday is exactly that. Having only recently listened to the excellent This American Life episode that inspired this adaptation of Reverend Carlton Pearson’s dark night of the soul, Joshua Marston and his talented cast caught me at just the right moment. The confluence of an evergreen theme and the freshness of the real story should’ve added up to a quality experience, but Come Sunday is too bland to make much of an impact. This story is powerful enough to get me tearing up at work when it’s in podcast form, but the cinematic version has me distracted and bored.
HBO’s original programming, consisting of series, movies, and miniseries, have a clear laggard in that trio. The movies don’t have anywhere near the cultural persistence that either series or miniseries have, despite HBO’s considerable marketing and development prowess. The standard format for feature-length films are adaptations of real events, and the strictures of sticking to history don’t let the actors do much more than impressions of well-known figures while the directing is utilitarian A-to-B event tracking. These are sometimes great, like the you-are-there history of Path to War or Conspiracy of the early-aughts, but have lately been Al Pacino in a series of bizarre wigs or make-up as he trolls for Emmy awards by playing disgraced public figures. Literary adaptations are more comfortable in the miniseries category (Empire Falls, Olive Kitteridge), and after reading the Wikipedia plot description of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, that may have been the better route. Ramin Bahrani attempts to cram a lot of plot and character motivation into 100 minutes, and ends up exchanging believable arcs and actions for ostentatious camera movement and bludgeoning political satire. If this is the art that survives the Second Civil War, we’re in trouble.
The Iron Giant takes place back when America was great, and all that that implies. Monochromatic coastal hamlets, packed diners, and comfortable blue collar work keep everyone happy and docile, painting a picture of ideal life with no conflict or disagreement. This bubble is in danger of popping from contagions all around. Sputnik beeps across the upper atmosphere. A filthy beatnik is running the scrap yard. Most of all, a sentient robot alien is romping through the forest, chomping on cars and recklessly exploring. Brad Bird’s stellar debut uses these interlopers to tell a big-hearted story of courage and wisdom. He mixes cultural commentary on an insular and paranoid time with the kind of raw emotion and epiphany that works so well on this viewer.
The Room is a singular work of filmmaking, in that no other person could make it but Tommy Wiseau at this one exact moment in time. As dreadful as it is, The Room does make a person consider what a good film even is. Is it more fun and entertaining to watch The Room than the average mildly entertaining, competent movie? I would say 100%, yes. It binds people together in ritual and shared experience. It’s an original vision powered by sheer will and a jeans fortune, or something, that gives the viewer a significant look into the creator’s head. I’ve read and listened to some overheated praise for The Room, and while its most fervent adherents make some good points about art and the criteria of ‘good,’ what cannot be argued about is how despicably misogynist and nakedly narcissistic the actual movie is. If Wiseau put so much of himself into the film, the picture that comes out of it is one of a delusional man who hates women, who has no talent for self-inspection, who’s so prideful that he can’t ask for help when he’s painfully outmatched. The pleasure I take from The Room is gleeful derision that someone so obviously awful could fail so spectacularly. He is not admirable. James Franco’s The Disaster Artist disagrees, and in a particularly irritating way. It sees the value in Tommy’s effort even if what it was used for is an execrable catastrophe worthy of all the derision it receives, and more.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.