“The Meyerowitz stories”. Or the Story of Families
Every day I am increasingly stunned by how movies and tv series give me so much food for my thoughts as therapist. Although I do not even have a tv, As many of my friends and clients know by now, I have a benign addiction to clever series as I find them not only compelling and entertaining but also very stimulating for my work. After I finished watching “Mindhunter” this week, a serie on the exploration of the mind of serial killers based in the 70s, I luckily bumped into the movie “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”.
Trying not to give too many spoilers away, the movie is about Harold, a father in his mid 70s (an epic Dustin Hoffman) and his three adult children, Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean ( Elizabeth Marvel) and the complex relationships between all of them. Harold is what can be easily classified as a Narcissistic father. A mildly successful artist in the 70s New York art scene, he is not so famous anymore- and probably never was -but his three kids seem to relentlessly have to play the role of feeding his ego and nourishing his self esteem, at the expense of their own .
There is a lot of splitting in “good” and “bad” from Harold in the way he perceives his kids. Matthew is the successful son, “the only one that knows how to make money in this family”, although when Harold is with him he will refuse to listen to Matthew’s achievements and never shows how proud of his son he is. Danny is the failure, the one that never worked and got nowhere. Jean is barely in Harold’s horizon, she is invisible. Harold’s parenting style over decades has inevitably had an enormous impact on the relationships between the three siblings who , as we will see towards the end, despite the pain and the rivalry, find a genuine way to be together.
Noah Baumbach, the director, has nailed it in portraying in a comic and emotional way the family dynamics and their impact on the individual like very few directors have before. His film is a visual manual on Systemic family psychotherapy. There are at least three generations on stage but there could be many more. A multi- generational perspective is very important to bear in mind in the attempt of understanding a family in therapy but also in the day-to-day life. For example, we do not know the story of Harold and how he got to be the kind of father he is, why he does love his children but cannot help hurting them so much. There is always a piece of the story missing and worth knowing.
Generations, dyads, triangles, hundreds of complex dynamics, alliances, rivalries. If you take a few dots and imagine that every dot is a family member, you can see the connections between them are endless and the whole picture is a complex galaxy that we never cease to discover.
At the same time, in the movie the need of each individual to be loved for who they are and their longing for connection is always in the background. Harold, Matthew, Danny, Jean, Maureen, Eliza: they just want to be together despite all the issues in their relationships. Like all of us, they cannot escape from the need of attachment.
It is also a movie about life cycle transitions. Danny’s daughter, Eliza, is about to leave home to go to university (where her grandfather taught) and her departure triggered the separation between her parents. Danny has to now find his path again, as a grown up man who is not just defined by his role of father and son. How do we balance loyalty and belonging to a system-our family, the only one we will ever have- and surfacing and developing as an individual? A challenge we constantly face every day.As Kent Hoffman (Object Relations Psychotherapist and co-founder of the Circle of Security parenting program) who I had the chance to meet at his enlightening workshop last week said, movies can say in pictures what we try to explain not as successfully with theories and words. Hollywood did not graduate in psychology, does not see patients every day but just gets it sometimes. And “The Meyerowitz stories” definitely accomplished that.