Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, Candice Bergen
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Plot: A group of dysfunctional siblings (Sandler/Stiller/Marvel) deal with their own issues, and their issues with their father (Hoffman) a retired art professor whose work is still relatively unknown.
What Works: Baumbach really is his own distinct voice in filmmaking. Yes, you can say he’s been influenced by other directors, probably most notably Woody Allen, but he still has his own vibe. Here he manages to capture a dysfunctional family very well, and pulls some amazing performances from his actors. This is Sandler’s best performance since Reign Over Me (and some might say, this is his career best). But for me, I think this is Stiller’s career best. Granted, I haven’t seen Brad’s Status yet, which I’ve heard is really good, but he has a moment in this film where he genuinely moved me, and he’s never been able to do that before. Both actors give their everything in this film, as does Dustin Hoffman, who is remarkable here too. It’s not a career best for him, but that’s because his career is littered with classic performances like in Tootsie and Rain Man. Thompson and Marvel are both good too, but for some reason I think the men overshadow the women. The writing here is very much on point. I loved a lot about this film, just sadly not the entire thing.
What Doesn’t Work: There are some things that just don’t work for me in this film. Little things, mostly. There’s the part near the end where Sandler whispers after smashing the cookies… just felt really out of character and out of place in the film. Also, the films that his daughter makes… his reaction to them is just… not human? Like, he makes it quite a ways into that before he has to stop watching, when I think most dads would have stopped the minute their daughters boobs were on screen. I know why we had that scene, I just think it went too far. It’s supposed to show how “best friends” they are, and how he doesn’t really see himself as a father, but even the most BFF of fathers doesn’t want to see his daughters boobs.
Final Word: This is one of those films that I hope Netflix takes seriously enough to bother to mount an awards campaign for. Hopefully it got some kind of theatrical release so it can be considered. Netflix has made some really good pickups in terms of independent cinema, but it needs to be able to stand behind them. I get that more people watch them because they go to Netflix instead of theatres, but they deserve awards acclaim too. There are some terrific performances here that should get noticed.
Final Grade: A-