I think I’m doing the best work of my life right now, but that’s just one man’s opinion,” crows the self-centered sculptor played by Dustin Hoffman in Noah Baumbach’s latest survey of fractured family dynamics amid New York creative types. It takes nerve for a writer-director to put those words into the mouth of a character with so little perspective on himself as artist or man, but on the strength of The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach might be able to size himself up accordingly, and unironically. The bracing if oppressively acrid wit of mid-career works like Greenberg has merged with the emotional generosity of more recent (and comparatively trifling) comedies like Frances Ha to synthesize his sharpest and tenderest opus since his acknowledged masterpiece, 2005’s The Squid and the Whale.
The sudden illness of patriarch Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman, roguishly unyielding as only he can be) occasions conflict and reluctant teamwork among his sons (Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler, mining his unreconstructed man-child for pathos, as he does whenever he has competent direction) and wallflower daughter (Elizabeth Marvel, superb if underutilized). The screenplay never figures out what to do with the dipso-boho stepmom (Emma Thompson), and a quirky sibling slap-fight and acts of cathartic vandalism feel borrowed from Wes Anderson’s bottom drawer, but in lovely moments like a father-daughter piano duet (featuring star-on-the-rise Grace Van Patten), Baumbach proves he’s capable of drawing tears as well as blood.