Filmmaker Noah Baumbach has very definitely adopted Woody Allen’s mantle in this new ensemble NY dramedy that rambles through the dynamics of of a very disorderly family resulting in what will probably end up being one of his more populist films.
The family patriarch Harold (an extraordinarily dry and funny Dustin Hoffman) is a retired Professor of Sculpture who is still somewhat bitter that no-one has ever recognized the genius of his work. His only slight brush wth fame was decades ago when the Whitney bought one of his pieces. He is on his 4th marriage and his latest wife is Maureen (an hilarious Emma Thompson) is barely older than is adult children ,and is an aging hippie who seems to sail through life perpetually sozzled and cooking weird inedible meals.
The oldest son Danny (Adam Sandler in a shockingly good career best performance) has never had a proper job and has been a house husband and father and part-time musician. However at the same time his only daughter is leaving home to go to College, he is also leaving and is in the fros of getting a divorce. Danny’s sibling the rather anti-social Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) seems to have let life pass her by completely, whereas their younger half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) is now a brash and highly successful West Coat lawyer.
Cranky Harold’s temper is tested is when one of his very successful contemporaries is give a Retrospective Show at MOMA. He has agreed that Danny can stay in his rather large Manhattan house just because Maureen has gone away, but despite his son’s genuine affection for his aging father Harold still contemptuously treats him unkindly and with a total lack of respect.
On the other hand Harold idolizes Matthew his youngest son even though he is not only everything he is not, he rarely bothers to make the journey from LA to come visit. Now that Harold is retired, Matthew is plotting with Maureen to sell the house and all its contents to a wealthy yuppie gay couple much to Danny’s distress.
Things come to a head when Harold is hospitalized and when it becomes clear that he may not survive, the siblings not knowing how to behave, that actually have to get counselling to learn how to say goodbye to their eccentric father.
As well as creating such quirky and fully rounded characters that attracted this A-list cast who reveled in their meaty roles, there were also a whole slew of some impressive cameos , the best of which was Candice Bergen playing one of Harold’s ex wives .
All of them seem to share at least a little of Harold’s demented state of mind, except maybe for Danny’s daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten). She is now a film student at Harold’s old alma mater and is maybe the only own who may survive the family relatively sane.
The pace is also fast and manic and is packed full of delightful idiosyncrasies that make this entertaining comedy the joy that it is. That and the revelation that when Adam Sandler stops playing his usual clownish roles, he really is a superbly talented actor. And a funny one too.