Verbal Musicality

Noah Baumbach is a New York-born writer-director, whose work includes Frances Ha (2012), While We’re Young (2014) and Mistress America (2015). His latest film is The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), a familial saga starring Dustin Hoffman as Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor embittered by his lack of success and Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel as his three grown-up children.

ASFF: The film deals with success and our need for external validation. Was it a subject that interested you?
NB: As it plays out in the movie, it was interesting to me. You have this patriarch of this family who defines success in a very external way. Really. [He wants] a career retrospective at MOMA? It’s basically one in a million. Not only that, he’s picked a medium … sculpture. How many famous sculptors are there? It’s like he’s picked a medium that’s very rarefied and abstract … many people even know what they think about it. And yet he wants great recognition.

ASFF: The film generated controversy in Cannes because Netflix are streaming it. Are we entering a new era when it comes to the way we consume films?
NB: Well I made the movie independently, and Netflix bought it in post-production. But I believe in the theatrical experience. I made the movie to be shown theatrically. I think it’s unique and not only worthy of preserving, it will be preserved. It’s not going to go away. It’s the way movies are meant to be seen. But Netflix is a great partner; they’ve been really supportive.

ASFF: The dialogue is very precise. Was that what you intended?
NB: Yeah, there’s a rhythm in the dialogue. It almost doesn’t work if you don’t do it exactly. It doesn’t mean the actors don’t bring so much life in themselves to it. That’s what you hire them for. But it is almost like music; if you play a note wrong you hear it. Every actor in the movie … they come prepared with that. It’s not only that, there is a lot of choreography because there are a lot of long shots, long takes and moving shots. So it’s not only getting the lines, it’s saying them at the right moment at the right time.

ASFF: Do you find writing female roles trickier?
NB: No, I don’t distinguish. It’s what the story is; Frances Ha was really about female friendship, and Mistress America is about female friendship. There are actually very few major male characters in those two movies and Margot at the Wedding likewise – it’s about sisters. So it’s really what the movie is. This was about fathers and sons. It’s also about fathers and daughters.

ASFF: Are you ever tempted to make a large-scale movie?
NB: No, because I’m not doing it to make movies; I’m doing it to make the movies I want to make. It is apples and oranges. I’m not compelled to make those movies. I wouldn’t want to change anything.

James Mottram

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) opens in cinemas and streams on Netflix from 13 October. For more details, visit:

1. Still from The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).