'The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)': Netflix film with local ties

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We are in the midst of awards season, and one of the 2017 films that is being given serious consideration is partly set in the Berkshires — and, perhaps, influenced by one of the area's residents.

"The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)," a Netflix original comedy-drama starring Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler, is writer/director Noah Baumbach's ("The Squid and the Whale," "Frances Ha") latest critically acclaimed feature to explore complex family dynamics. Most of the story orbits Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman), a disgruntled sculptor and retired art professor who has been surpassed in appreciation by his peers and may now have to sell his Manhattan town house to stave off financial ruin. His unemployed son, Danny (Sandler), moves in to his father's Manhattan home after seeing his daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), off to her freshman year at Bard College. But Harold's eccentricity eventually drives Danny away; his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and successful half-brother, Matthew (Stiller), don't fare much better in dealing with their attention-seeking father, who soon finds himself, unintentionally, at the fore once more when he must be treated for a subdural hematoma at a Pittsfield hospital near his country house. Revelations about the man's work — and, consequently, his feelings about his children — follow.

"They're a smart and sophisticated and relatively privileged bunch, but they're miserable and ridiculous, which makes for some poignant insights and some sharp comedy. We enjoy the Meyerowitz clan, even as we praise the heavens we're not like them and we don't live next door to any of 'em," writes Richard Roeper for the Chicago Sun-Times, giving the film three-and-a-half stars.

A different critic has this to say: "I think it's very good. I think it's [Baumbach's] best film ... I think it's very well done."

Those are the words of novelist Jonathan Baumbach, the director's father and a Housatonic resident. He has seen it three times (once in a theater, twice on Netflix). And while his son didn't consult with him on this particular project — Noah used to screen his films for his father — Jonathan Baumbach believes that parts of Harold's character were based on both him and his father. (Noah Baumbach declined an interview through his father.)

For starters, Jonathan Baumbach's father was named Harold and was an artist. His disposition may have been similar, too.

A New York Times obituary describes Harold Baumbach as "a New York painter of dissonant color and irascible temperament whose career began before most Americans had ever heard of his friend Mark Rothko."

"My father had close friends who had bigger reputations, were more successful, as the Hoffman character has his friend [L.J. Shapiro] who's more successful than he is," Jonathan Baumbach said.

The 84-year-old sees himself in Hoffman's character because he too had a subdural hematoma, but that's where the similarities end, he says.

Jonathan Baumbach has fielded questions about his presence in his son's films before. In "The Squid and the Whale" (2005) many have compared the unlikable Bernard Berkman, a struggling novelist, to Baumbach.

"The character in 'Squid and the Whale' was less likable than the Hoffman character, though they both had flaws. And I was teaching at Brooklyn College at the time, and my students asked me about it. Anyway, Noah made a statement later on that even though all the reviewers identified the character as me, that it was a made-up character," Jonathan Baumbach said.

"I mean, I'm not going to pretend it's my friend's father, but it is reinvented, and he's written about his dad, too. I think he was able to experience it as a movie. That said, it's got to be weird," Noah Baumbach said of the character in an interview with New York magazine.

The father says his son visits the Berkshires about once a year, staying no longer than a week or two at a time. The film was not shot in the Berkshires, but locals may enjoy references to Triplex Cinema and Baba Louie's, which Hoffman's character calls "the best pizza in the Berkshires."

The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last May and hit theaters and streams in October.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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