Words and images by Travolta Cooper
Netflix didn’t come to Play, They came to Slay
Cannes France —- So “streaming cinema” (as I call it) has no doubt been the talk of the Festival. It has been the subject of three (including this one) of our daily reports. This is an important development in the cinema around the world. It is particularly true of the Caribbean Region where streaming services like “Studio Anansi” and “Caribbean Tales” lead as being a provider for Caribbean Films and content. Content. When all is said and done, cinema boils down to a great story and character. Content. Which is why, even at day five at Cannes, I have personally been waiting for a great film. Is it streaming cinema or theatrical cinema? Who cares? Where is that “Cannes movie” so many of us travelled thousands of miles to see. This was definitely not the case with the opening night film Ismael’s Ghost. And despite some reports of Amazon Studios’ Wonderstruck and it’s ‘Oscar’ prospects, I doubt Wonderstruck will make it to the Academy Awards. While Okja was fun and important, it serves mostly as a signpost: ‘a new Hollywood’ type entertainment. Then The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) debuted this morning. And it is not just one of the best films of the Festivals or the best of a ‘Netflix Original,’ Ladies and Gents; we have a winner for one of the best films of the year.
Noah Baumbach has long and quietly been one of the favorite filmmakers. I’ve always likened him to a younger Woody Allen. He inherits a tradition and style of New York Jewish humor. I remember seeing his film “The Squid And The Whale” in film school and thought, ‘how does one take the subject of divorce and make it so cinematic?’ How? He does this because he is an excellent writer, writing the some of the smartest and three-dimensional characters you’ll meet in the cinema. He returns with to his palette with The Meyerowitz Stories, which also goes into the Baumbach familiar terrain of family dysfunction, sibling rivalry, and daddy issues. As a writer-director, Baumbach often charts the lingering emotional scars that parents inflict on their children, resulting in families full of lingering resentment and self-hatred. If The Meyerowitz Stories doesn’t exactly rewrite this familiar narrative, but Baumbach remains an eloquent chronicler of a universal anguish, understanding what can be traumatic and hilarious in the scenario.
Where Baumbach’s film is slightly different is in its structure. As its full title suggests, The Meyerowitz Stories adopts a literary tone, breaking its narrative into distinct chapters that focus on different family members. Danny (played by Adam Sandler) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) are the eldest children of Harold Meyerowitz (played by Dustin Hoffman), a New York sculptor who never became as renowned as he thought he deserved. Now on his fourth marriage, the bitter, egotistical Harold retains a powerful hold on his kids, exacerbating Danny’s sense of failure that he never succeeded as a songwriter and ignoring Jean to such a degree that she barely feels like a member of the family. Harold’s real affection seems to be concentrated on their younger half-sibling Matthew (played Ben Stiller), who is a wealthy business manager out in Los Angeles.
Baumbach knows how to cast and how to draw the best performances from his cast. It is no different here. When we left the screening, I could hear cinephiles debating whether Adam Sandler stole the movie or was it Ben Stiller. Both are great here. Adam Sandler, who delivered his best performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love,” tops it as Danny Meyerowitz. It is his most nuanced work. Ben Stiller excels as Matthew Meyerowitz. He has a speech in the film about his dad that is sure to earn raves. As Dad Meyerowitz, Dustin Hoffman is superb. There are elements of The Squid And The Whale’s monstrously conceited writer father in Harold, but Hoffman’s deeply passive performance provides a fresh take, giving us a patriarch who has haunted his children by being at such a remove from them. There are minor roles played by Emma Thompson (as Harold’s fourth wife), Candice Bergen (as Matthew’s mother) that is memorable. And as Jean Meyerowitz, Elizabeth Marvel is a marvel and a find.
While most of us millenials are familiar with the popular term and meme “Netflix and Chill” (if you’re not, you can Google it), a new millennial meme from the 70th Cannes Film Festival could read something like this: ‘Netflix and Slay.’ And Netflix did not come to play at Cannes, they came to slay. The streaming service is the real deal and this is the future of the cinema. Deal with it. I read that Netflix, has been in the Adam Sandler business for quite some time and that this could perhaps explain why they scooped up this relatively high-brow production just weeks before its Cannes Film Festival premiere. However, it’s odd to think that the company responsible for “Sandy Wexler” and “The Ridiculous Six” could conceivably earn Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller their first Oscar nominations. Slay Netflix, slay!