Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Rebecca Miller

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Family’s enough competition as is.

Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) is going through a bit of a rough-patch in his life. He and his wife are separated, his daughter (Grace Van Patten) is going off to college to hopefully continue the family’s long legacy of being artistically-sound, and he just lost his home, forcing him to have to move back in with his father, renowned sculpture-artist Harold (Dustin Hoffman). And by doing so, he also becomes closer with his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and stepmother, Maureen (Emma Thompson). It’s not too happy of a time for Danny and while his father knows this, he doesn’t quite help the situation out much, either. Then enters Danny’s half-brother, Michael (Ben Stiller), who his father loves and adores a lot more and for very obvious reasons – Michael is a lot more successful and Harold happened to marry his mother twice. While the two aren’t really supposed to get along, they eventually try to tie the binds between them and get over the long years of familial strife and continue on the Meyerowitz legacy. Or at least, whatever is left of it.

“No! I’m funnier!”

Is Noah Baumbach a pretentious film-maker? A part of me likes to think that he is, but another part of me likes to think that he isn’t. While there are certain movies of that I don’t care for (Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg), there are others that I do (everything else), and it mostly all comes down to how unfathomable and unlikable his characters are. And in mostly all of Baumbach’s films, that seems to be the case.

It’s pretty interesting, really, that he’s chosen to have his protagonists be challenging, somewhat unsympathetic human beings that, while we dislike the time we spend with them, they’re still human and compelling. After all, the characters are either just like us, or like people we know, and while we may not want to spend two-hours with them, there’s no denying the fact that actually spending time with them is rather refreshing. So yeah. I don’t know if the fact that enjoys having his movies centered around these awful characters makes him pretentious, it just makes him, as well as his movies, a bitter pill to swallow.

But one that you’ll probably be fine with afterwards.

And while in the Meyerowitz Stories, there’s no really awful, unlikable, and reprehensible character here, they’re all kind of annoying and a little deuchy. Then again, that’s sort of the point. Family itself is raised on the notion of competition and who’s more successful than the other, so when these characters all start bragging to one another about their great noble achievements, however small they may be, sure, it may be a little tiresome, but it all comes from a soft spot in their hearts that we can, at the very least, relate to.

Baumbach’s a smart enough writer to at least know and understand that each of these characters all have something going for them, as well as a little something going for them. For instance, while Danny’s made out to be a bit of a loser, he’s also got a stronger connection to his daughter and most other humans than perhaps his half-brother, Michael will ever have with another person. On the flip-side of things though, Michael’s also a lot more successful in his life and probably always will be, whereas Danny seems like he’ll never get up off the couch and do something extraordinary with his life because, well, he’s never had to, so why start now? It’s an interesting contrast that follows just about every character in this movie, and while it may make them a wee bit over-bearing, they’re still honest and raw.

So much sarcasm.

And oh yeah, because of the ensemble, fun to watch, too.

Especially in the case of Danny, who gets a great performance out of Adam Sandler, for once and a blue moon. But what’s interesting about Danny is that he’s basically every other Adam Sandler character the guy’s played in the past two decades or so: He’s a man-child who doesn’t know if he ever wants to grow up, how to do it, and is kind of sad. But in this case, the sad-sack has a lot more to him than just childish hi-jinx, as he’s much more likable and sympathetic, and not just an all around dick. It’s great to see Sandler in this kind of role, where he’s literally forced to act and actually do something, and it shows us all that, yes, he’s still got it, and when the Netflix money runs out, he can always turn back to arthouse, character-driven roles. So long as it’s not something like the Cobbler.

Ben Stiller is, as usual, pretty good, too, playing another sort of dick-head who seems like he’s got his whole life in-check, but really doesn’t. Stiller’s done a great job in his outings with Baumbach and while this isn’t his most challenging, it still shows us that he and Baumbach help each other out in working better for the two. Together, Stiller and Sandler have a sort of anti-chemistry that, even though they’re not supposed to like each other, they sort of do and it’s quite a lovely little sight to see. After all, these are two of comedy’s greats, finally together, once again, but instead of yucking it up for the nosebleeds, they’re actually playing three-dimensional, fully-realized characters.

Wow. Funny how times change. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and a group of interesting characters, the Meyerowitz Stories is an honest, funny, and sometimes look at family and all of the hostilities that go along with it.

8 / 10

Invite me to that reunion. Oh wait. Maybe not.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Advertisements

Maggie’s Plan (2016)

Who needs a plan when you can just sleep around?

At this point in her life, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) feels as if it’s about time to start having a baby. While she doesn’t have a man in her life that she can settle down with and actually have the baby with, she still knows that she can have a baby, if solely through a sperm donor. The man she chooses is a former classmate of hers, who now sells pickles (Travis Fimmell). While he totally agrees to it and gives her the sample, for some reason, Maggie gets a little side-tracked. She meets a fellow teacher, John (Ethan Hawke), who takes a liking to her and they start to hang out a whole lot. Even though he’s married to the intimidating, but incredibly pretentious Georgette (Julianne Moore), there’s still something bright and youthful about Maggie that John can’t seem to keep himself away from, but how much is he willing to screw up his whole family for her? Better yet, how much is Maggie willing and able to screw things up with her situation, to then start a life with John and become something she never saw herself as being?

"So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?"

“So yeah, what are your thoughts on spiritual wellness?”

It’s hard not to look at Maggie’s Plan as some sort of sequel to Frances Ha, in which Greta Gerwig’s titular character has now grown up a tad bit, got her own place, found a steady job, and is now thinking about the next stage in her life. Sure, you could definitely say that it’s a bit of a stretch, or not one at all, depending on how you look at it, but it’s hard not to compare the two, especially with what writer/director Rebecca Miller goes for here (that serio-screwball/tragicomedy kind of movie), and how it compares a lot to Noah Baumbach’s style. That said, are both movies the same?

Nope, not really.

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter because Maggie’s Plan is a good movie that, excluding Gerwig and her lovely presence, still works; it’s about much more than Maggie and her “plan”. In a way, it’s about how that plan constantly changes and takes on different forms over time, to where people’s lives are changed and she has no clue how it happened, or what to do about it. It’s odd that Miller is taking on something as silly and light as this can be, especially considering how dark, dramatic and bare her past movies could get, but it’s still nice to see her trying out different things, even if they don’t always work.

See, with Maggie’s Plan, Miller is going for two things here and she doesn’t hit the nail perfectly on the head. There’s plenty of funny moments that are, at the very least, chuckle worthy, but never to extreme laughter, and the dramatic moments, as rare as they come around, often feel like they’re supposed to be more important than they actually appear to be in the movie. There’s two sides to Maggie’s Plan, and they’re both interesting, but Miller can never make up her clear mind of which side she’s willing to take and run wild with; you can make both movies simultaneously, but there has to be a better switch than what Miller sometimes does here.

That said, there’s more good than bad within Maggie’s Plan; there’s a darker undercurrent of a story that’s briefly hinted at, and had Miller gone further down the road, the movie would have been far more sad and emotional. It’s probably a good thing that she didn’t go down that road because the movie does an awful lot of skewering and making fun of these kinds of New York intellectuals that, so often in movies, are loved and beheld as some sort of “God sends”. Sure, these people are fine and they do exist, but Miller herself knows that it’s also fun poke jokes at their expense to, while also not forgetting about their humanity, either.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

Old school yuppie, meet new school yuppie. Try to keep up with the awkwardness and hip slang.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

Gerwig has played this kind of character before many, many times before and it’s still fine here; there’s a sense that she’s growing older and becoming more mature with each role, so it’ll be interesting where she takes it next. However, the movie isn’t always about her, as it’s much more about those around her, like Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore’s characters. As John, Hawke does his best to be charming and likable, even if the character he plays is sometimes so infuriating and nauseating, you want him to be gone and told to “pipe down”. But because it’s Hawke, all of the annoying things he goes on and on about for no reason or another, there’s something endearing to it all.

Moore, on the other hand, is playing a Danish writer and while the role may seem really silly and over-the-top, Moore gets to the heart and soul of this character and makes us see her as a person. This is also a testament to Miller’s writing, showing that this kind of woman does exist, but she’s not such a terrible person in the first place, even if she’s made out to be that way. It also helps that Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph show up as a married-couple, who also happen to be Maggie’s best pals and they always tell it like it is. They’re funny and smart, even if they show up for a little bit, every so often. Each time is as good as the last, but come on, where’s the movie about them?

I wouldn’t mind that one bit. Although, Maggie’s Plan is just fine, too.

Consensus: Despite its never ending battle with tone, Maggie’s Plan works because of its charming and likable cast, and affection for their characters, even if they aren’t always making the best, brightest decisions.

7 / 10

Oh, Greta. What a heart-breaker you are.

Oh, Greta. What a twee heartbreaker you are.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire