The Netflix logo still drew scattered boos when it appeared at the beginning of the Cannes Film Festival screening of Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” on Sunday morning at the Grand Theatre Lumiere, but this time there were no technical snafus, no rhythmic clapping and no halted screening so that the aspect ratio could be fixed.
Unlike the chaos that accompanied the first Netflix movie to screen at Cannes, “Okja” on Thursday, the press screening of “The Meyerowitz Stories” on Sunday was uneventful — that is, unless you called the Cannes debut of Baumbach after 10 films and 22 years to be an event.
And in fact, it is one. Considering that his career that has included such gems as “The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding,” “Greenberg,” “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America,” you’d think that Baumbach would have gotten around to showing a film in Cannes before now. But hey, maybe he’s been more of a Sundance kind of guy.
But it’s about time that one of Baumbach’s sharp New York-set comedies detailing the foibles of young adults of a certain age hit the Croisette — although diehard cineastes might be forgiven for asking if he had to make his debut with a film starring Adam Sandler, whose brand has been a bit tarnished as his worthy performances in “The Wedding Singer,” “50 First Dates” and especially “Punch Drunk Love” have been outnumbered by significantly trashier fare. (By which I do not mean “The Waterboy,” which rules.)
In “The Meyerowitz Stories” he’s alongside the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and Ben Stiller, playing the sad-sack oldest son of Hoffman’s character, a minor artist and teacher whose casually dismissive, pompously self-centered manner is reminiscent of Jeff Daniels’ character in “The Squid and the Whale,” with the bluster dialed down a bit and the weariness dialed up.
And that’s the kind of Baumbach movie this is. While many of his recent films, including “Mistress America” and “Frances Ha,” have a real lightness and lilt to them, this is a darker story of dysfunction. It’s still a comedy, but one about the wounds inflicted by family and the way they can never really be healed.
Hoffman’s delicious performance kind of sucks the air from every scene he’s in, which is exactly what his character does, but Sandler and Stiller are fine as siblings who are still bearing the scars of parental neglect (in Sandler’s case) and over-attention (in Stiller’s). In many ways, though, Elizabeth Marvel steals the show as the neglected daughter who has spent most of her life hiding in plain sight from the wreckage around her.
For Baumbach, “The Meyerowitz Stories” sits in the darker side of his filmography; it’s still a comedy, to be sure, but one filled with pain and regret. It’s not as immediately memorable as many of his other films, lacking the bite of “The Squid and the Whale” or the inspired comedy of “Mistress America” — but it’s an amusing adult comedy that finds some real grace notes in the homestretch.
And it made Adam Sandler seem perfectly suited to the Cannes Film Festival, which is an accomplishment all by itself.