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Netflix's 'Meyerowitz Stories' is more than just Adam Sandler

Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson help Sandler banish memories of "The Ridiculous 6" (almost).

Atsushi Nishijima

Adam Sandler can't win. He's absolutely fantastic in the new movie "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)", now arriving on Netflix. But every stellar review is couched with surprise after his recent run of awful, awful films for the streaming service.

Yes, it's a backhanded compliment, but if that bothers him, well, I guess he shouldn't have made "The Ridiculous 6",

"The Meyerowitz Stories" isn't exactly "an Adam Sandler film". Yes, he is in it, and he does have a multi-film contract with Netflix. And it's very funny, and it does have quite a lot of slapstick, and Sandler plays a boy-man with a propensity for sudden outbursts of rage...actually, it's not a million miles away from Sandler's usual schtick, is it? He even sings a bit. But "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" is written and directed by Noah Baumbach, chronicler of familial and millennial dysfunction in such mumblecore outings as "Frances Ha" and "The Squid and The Whale". It may have Adam Sandler in it, and it may be on Netflix, but it's no "The Do-Over".

Sandler plays Danny, the disappointing son in the Meyerowitz clan. An unassuming divorcee devoted to his daughter, he and his repressed sister have lived their lives in the shadow of their cantankerous sculptor father.

Dustin Hoffman anchors the film as the infuriating, magnetic patriarch Harold Meyerowitz, by turns roguishly charming and monstrously self-absorbed. Much to Danny's annoyance, Harold dotes on his wealthy and successful other son, played by Ben Stiller, who in turn can't stop his resentment of his father bubbling up to the surface.

meyerowitz-stories-adam-sandler-netflix-ben-stiller-2

Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler get their (new and selected) stories straight.

Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

The stage is set for decades-old family tension and unresolved angst to seek release. The film is divided into chapters finding the Meyerowitz clan at different transition points in their lives: divorce, going to college, giving up booze (or pretending to), and growing old. This chapter-like structure and setting within the New York art and academic world gives it a bookish feel, like a collection of "New Yorker" short stories. But there's a cinematic edge too with some precisely-judged editing that turns scene transitions into gags in themselves.

Baumbach has collaborated with fellow director Wes Anderson on a couple of films, and this feels a lot like his version of Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums" (which also starred Stiller). It's a lot less self-consciously stylised, however -- this eccentric clan feels achingly real. 

The film is most interested in the boys of the family, ironically sidelining Jean, the sister who feels ignored by the family. I could have watched more of her, as Elizabeth Marvel -- from "Homeland" and "House of Cards" -- is brilliant. Emma Thompson is also on scene-stealing form as Harold's wobbly, woozy new wife, driving yet another wedge between the family as she takes charge of her husband's affairs. And look out too for a blistering cameo from Candice Bergen.

"The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" is a delight. Even if it is a slight enough tale, it probably deserves better than to be hailed as "the good Adam Sandler film on Netflix" -- especially as Stiller, Thompson, Hoffman and Marvel are all also excellent. Does it even count towards Sandler's multi-film contract with the streaming service? I've no idea. But if he's going to show he's capable of being this good, Netflix would be within their rights to ask for their money back on his previous outings.

"The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" streams on Netflix around the world from 13 October.

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