Family dysfunction found a warmer embrace in Noah Baumbach’s film set among slightly bohemian Jewish New Yorkers – indeed one might call it Happy Haneke.
That’s not say it doesn’t have its bitterness. All Baumbach’s characters here have gripes they can barely get over as they rally around belligerent artist father Harold, played by Dustin Hoffman in his best performance for years.
Son Danny is played, all pent up rage and frustrated dreams by Adam Sandler, proving that given the right direction and script, he can be a very interesting actor; another son, Matthew, is played by Ben Stiller – he’s the successful son who made money and moved to LA to manage other people’s money, a career Matthew doesn’t believe his artist father ever approved.
Emma Thompson is fun as Harold’s second wife, always undercooking the food, and there’s a sister (Elizabeth Marvel) and a granddaughter (a star-making turn from Grace van Paten). They’re all trying to get Harold, hailed as a talent back in the 60s, his own retrospective art show – mainly so his work can have a shot at gaining some value before they sell it all off.
Amid all the (very funny) resentments and rivalries, a familial warmth nevertheless seeps through. There’s a great scene where Matthew and Danny finally come to blows over some childhood issues, which cuts to them having to give a speech to assembled guests, wiping a bleeding nose.
Baumbach doesn’t do gags. It’s more observational and ironic, but you sense he really wants his characters to sort themselves out, that he likes all of them, no matter how self-obsessed they may be. This is one of the best films Woody Allen hasn’t made in ages.
It’s an enjoyably ramshackle comedy of first world problems, angsty yet full of love. And Hoffman is wonderful.