FILM | The buddy film brings Netflix to the big screen and showcases a big, tumultuous, relatable family
There are numerous films about confusing, complicated families based on the simple reason that they tend to narratively work.
Such films perform especially well when the family is eccentric and privileged enough that their emotional problems take center stage to larger worldly issues looming in the background. "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" is no exception to this general rule of thumb in storytelling.
Debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, "The Meyerowitz Stories" chronicles the story of three adult siblings — Danny, Jean, and Matthew — in a blended family who are brought back together after their aging father, Harold, becomes faced with health issues. It's the latest work from Noah Baumbach of "Kicking & Screaming" and "Mistress America" fame, and incorporates a cast of familiar faces including Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, and Ben Stiller.
From their chemistry in the film and their tears at the premier, it is clear that the set of the film was composed of friends who wanted to be working on a project together. For right or for wrong, it makes it a pleasure to watch. Using the format of different chapters, the film explores the individual stories of the members of the Meyerowitz family, outlining each person's virtues and their vices and how they're connected to the other members.
We first learn of Danny (Sandler in arguably his most mature role to date), an aging musician who has never lived up to his full potential and is now in the middle of a divorce without a home or a job to his name. His one victory is his delightful daughter, Eliza (played by talented newcomer Grace Van Patten), a first year film student at Bard.
COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
We then see Harold (a terrific Hoffman), the patriarch of the Meyerowitz clan, and his fourth wife Maureen (an almost unrecognizable Emma Thompson), and learn about Harold's struggles with aging as a mediocre artist and a retired sculpting professor. It's a pain he takes out on all of his children, holding them up as failures as he struggles to acknowledge perhaps he is a failure, too. The one he favors is the one who differs most from the rest, Matter (Stiller), a "personal wealth" consultant living on the West Coast and far away from the familial tension.
The siblings must reconnect when Harold becomes hospitalized due to a head injury. They find themselves working together to curate a show of their father's work and being faced with the issues no one wants to confront, such as whether or not Danny is a failure for never having seriously pursued his music talents or if Matthew is repeated the same absent behavior with his son that Harold did with Danny and Jean. Slowly, they learn about forgiveness, about love, and about the process of moving forward. It's played out slowly and untidy enough that it feels authentic. Even when Harold eventually recovers and the siblings cease their mental preparations for his loss, much of the tension remains on whether the ability to apologize is as easy as the act of saying such.
COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
The biggest shortcoming in the film is the limited serious screen time given to the female characters. Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is arguably the most interesting Meyerowitz offspring, but is never given the attention from her parents or from the camera that she deserves. The other characters in the film are consistently claiming they have no idea where Jean's opinion is on family matters, and are admittedly shocked when she reveals to having had an awkward sexual experience in her youth with a friend of her father's, but it never occurs to them to ask her thoughts. Both Maureen and Harold's second ex-wife, Julia (a brief appearance by Candice Bergen) can be considered flighty and irrational in their decision making. And despite the frequent praise Eliza is given as a filmmaker, her incredibly erotic, poorly edited shorts are clearly intended to ensue audience laughter and not to help us respect her art. The focus of the film could afford the same lesson the parents in the film need: spread your attention more equally to all of your children.
Aside from the content, the discussion about the film's distribution through Netflix is something new for competition features in Cannes. "The Meyerowitz Stories" was originally backed by IAC Films and then later acquired by the streaming service, resulting in the film being shot just like any other indie film. Rather than hurt the project, as Cannes purists suggest, this move seems to be able to help the film garner a wider audience in a multimedia culture.
Regardless of whether people will be watching in their local art house theatre or on their couches in their pajamas, larger audiences will likely turn out to see "The Meyerowitz Stories" when it is widely released because of its ability to connect to a universal message of family drama — or at least they should, in order to feel better about their own parents and siblings.
A complete list of films in competition for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palm d'Or, is available on the festival's website, as is a press conference with the team from "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)."
- The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) - IMDb ›
- The Meyerowitz Stories - Wikipedia ›
- Netflix Buys Noah Baumbach's 'The Meyerowitz Stories' for 2017 ... ›
- Netflix Acquires Noah Baumbach's 'The Meyerowitz Stories' | Deadline ›
- 'The Meyerowitz Stories" - YouTube ›
- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017) - Rotten Tomatoes ›
- The Meyerowitz Stories review: Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler up ... ›
- Adam Sandler shines in Netflix's The Meyerowitz Stories. ›
- Netflix at Cannes: 'The Meyerowitz Stories' Won't Be Oscar ... ›
- Cannes 2017: The Meyerowitz Stories, review: it's been a long time ... ›
Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.