Good Movie Redeems Bad Week

The headlines in politics and entertainment over the past several days have been disheartening – sometimes, downright maddening, And I know a movie can’t make the world go away, but a good one at least lets you think about something else for a couple hours.

Some weeks, it seems, can only be redeemed by a Friday night in with a glass of wine, your favorite takeout, and a good movie, and I was able to start this weekend by indulging in all three.

The movie I’m talking about is The Meyerowitz Stories, Noah Baumbach’s new film. Reading some Twitter conversation about the New York Film Festival on Friday (it played there), I was reminded that it was also watchable on Netflix – so that immediately became my Friday night plan.

I was predisposed to like Meyerowitz because I haven’t met a Noah Baumbach film I didn’t like. Frances Ha and Mistress America in particular are two films I could watch endlessly; as a young woman finding her way and making her life in New York, hardly a week goes by without something in real life echoing a moment from one of those movies.

Like those two, Meyerowitz is about Manhattan artist types, but I found its characters a lot more lovable. Especially Danny Meyerowitz, played by Adam Sandler, who’s perfect in the role. He’s warm, particularly in scenes with his daughter (played by Grace Van Patten, who I’d never seen in anything before this and also gives a fantastic performance). They capture a father-daughter relationship in which he’s clearly an authority figure and advice-giver, but they’re also friends, and he values her advice, too. I loved their scenes together.

Danny Meyerowitz is also too proud to ask for help, but not too proud to accept it. I liked that about him. I wouldn’t say this is a huge spoiler, but there are a couple instances in the film where Danny accepts help from his wealthy brother, Matthew (played by Ben Stiller). Given what you come to know about the brothers over the course of the film, I got the sense Matthew’s generosity is somewhat guilt-driven – he’s the sibling who escaped New York and got out from under the thumb of their difficult father (played by Dustin Hoffman), and is only beginning to understand the weight Danny bears in dealing with him day-to-day. But as the story progresses, their relationship deepens, and the film ends with Danny accepting a particularly special gift from his brother – one that would require more than monetary sacrifice on Matthew’s part.

Maybe I’m making it out to be too dramatic; it’s not like Matthew goes to the guillotine for him. But it was touching, and I felt as proud of Danny for accepting the gift as I did of Matthew for offering. And honestly, only now as I’m writing this am I realizing how much affection this film made me feel for its characters.

It may get lost in the shuffle of awards season because it’s a Netflix release, and it’s coming out a little before the crush of Oscar bait, but Adam Sandler deserves special attention. This is such a warm, wonderful film, though, that its awards potential shouldn’t matter. See it anyway and be moved by a great family story and a great New York story.

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My September of Gerwig-Baumbach Movies

I have found a new spirit animal, and it is Greta Gerwig from this scene in Greenberg, the first of a trio of Gerwig-Noah Baumbach (all starring and sometimes co-written by her, and all directed by him) movies I have seen and loved in the month of September:

Because who among us has not danced and sung along to a Wings song while alone in her apartment.

Actually, the circumstances surrounding the Admiral Halsey dance are a little melancholy, and of the three films I’m thinking of (the other two being Mistress America and Frances Ha), Gerwig’s character in Greenberg is the one I saw the least of myself in. And yet, the film as a whole still fascinates me. All three of these films seem to have met me in perfect timing over the past few weeks.

I saw Mistress America first of the three, at the picture-perfect Lincoln Plaza Cinema on the Upper West Side. I remember first seeing a preview for it when I saw Love and Mercy in June, and at the time I remember enjoying a couple of the lines and realizing, oh, that’s Greta Gerwig, the girl from Frances Ha and the forgotten How I Met Your Mother spin-off. Frances Ha came less than a week later. It was Sunday of Labor Day.

Together, those movies represented my current life phase better than any movies ever had. Never had two films spoken so articulately to the phase in which I found myself at the time of viewing them – Mistress America in a broad sense, and Frances Ha more in the specifics.

Since I saw Mistress America in theaters, I haven’t been able to go back and recall the exact wording of several lines that made my eyes widen in recognition. I’m stuck with the lines I typed furiously in a note on my phone as I left the theater, and with what I’ve been able to dig up from tumblr and trailers. But the overall feeling, of being a young person trying to figure it out in New York, resonated to my core. Gerwig’s character, Brooke, has a line (maybe several and I’m only remembering it as one) about how she loves so much, but none of what she loves or seems to be good at is something that the world, at least from a work perspective, finds valuable. I also identified with the characters of Tracy and Tony, two college freshmen, who realize they’re kind of the worst right now and just want to grow up, fit in, and be good at something.

And Brooke’s New York is the New York I think a lot of people glimpse and have in the back of their mind every time they dream of moving here. She lives in Times Square and gets by purely on her commitment to her artsy ideas. There’s a shot of Brooke and Tracy in the middle of Times Square one morning, parting for the day as any friends might outside an apartment building, and that image is stuck in my mind because it’s exactly how I first envisioned living here. Even the mundane things, like heading out for a morning gym class, happen against the big, bright backdrop of the city. As Brooke, and everyone else in New York eventually learns, this does not retain its glamour.

I’m making it sound like Mistress America drove me to an existential criss, but much of the film is great just because it’s enjoyable. Lines like, “If you live in suburbia, you really have to love your house,” (said by Tracy) simply made me laugh because that’s an idea that has crossed my mind as I’ve schlepped stuff from one apartment to the next in New York City. (In The New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote, “While watching the film, I wanted to transcribe the dialogue in real time for the pleasure of reading it afterward.”)

A few days after seeing Mistress America, I decided to watch Frances Ha. I’d been meaning to watch it for months, since I knew it had been well-received, and I’d heard rave reviews from a movie-loving friend. Mistress America made me even more willing to dive in.

If I’m judging a movie based on how well it delivers what I most want out of a film, Frances Ha is as perfect as they come. Shot in black-and-white, set in New York City, insanely well-cast, highlighting people who are a little bit aimless…it’s all there.

It’s almost hard to find words for how well this movie depicts New York life in a specific way. I didn’t have quite the same ahhhh what am I even doing here?  feelings as I did with Mistress America, but had more moments of, oh, yes, I have experienced exactly that crappy or amazing thing while living in this city. Like waiting an eternity on the subway platform before realizing that line isn’t running this weekend. Or having your eyes bug out with excitement the instant you realize your tax rebate has come.

Greta Gerwig is from Sacramento, and the movie features a whole montage depicting Frances’ trip home for Christmas (her real-life parents play Frances’ parents). I have never seen the spirit of a holiday trip home from New York City shown in such a lovely way on film. Joy, family, fun, Christmas decorations, walks around the neighborhood, twinges of melancholy. I’m finding I want to end every sentence I write about this film with sigh, it’s perfect.

In the past year (and some change) in which I would say I’ve become legitimately interested in film, I’ve basically just followed movies from one to the next, going after whatever directors or actors or styles hold my obsession that moment. I can’t even remember why I first stumbled upon Greenberg, but something in my movie knowledge quest led me to it on Netflix awhile ago. I didn’t actually watch it until last week, completing my September Gerwig-Baumbach trifecta. This is actually the oldest of the three films I watched, and the only one set in Los Angeles. What I loved about it was less about how it connected to me – since I noticed fewer similarities between its characters and myself – and more about the movie as a whole and its specific performances. Like the aforementioned dancing to Admiral Halsey.

There’s an underlying uncomfortableness to it since Greenberg, Ben Stiller’s character, is so unpleasant. Even Greta Gerwig’s Florence has her difficult moments. But there’s a scene where she and Greenberg are talking in her apartment, and she’s describing a time she and her friend went out and pretended to be slutty girls at a bar, and Greta Gerwig in that scene just blew me away. (I came across this piece in the New York Times by A.O. Scott, written at the time of Greenberg‘s release, which eloquently describes the scene and the heart of Gerwig’s greatness in it.) It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Gerwig’s acting in the other two films, but in this one, it’s just more apparent, or at least it’s the element that most resonated with me.

It’s the end of September now, but not the end of my quest to see more of the Gerwig-Baumbach catalogue. I’ll have to shift to movies they did separately; I’m most excited to watch earlier Gerwig performances, and Baumbach’s While We’re Young (bonus points for even more Wings music in the trailer). But these three they did together have been added to heavy rotation in my movie world.