Runtime: 88 minutes
Director/Writer: Evan Oppenheimer
Actors: Kate Mulgrew, Richard Kind, Barbara Barrie, Shoshannah Stern, Neal Huff, Melissa Errico, Daniel Eric Gold, Ian Kahn, Jackie Burns, Lauren Ridloff
By Joan Amenn
New Yorkers are typically depicted as neurotic and cynical in most films. While the rest of the country may still find the shtick amusing, it can get a little tired. Fortunately, there is plenty of “The Magnificent Meyersons” (2021) that crackles with sharp observations from the members of the title family. Most of these come from the two matriarchs of the clan, played by Kate Mulgrew and Barbara Barry.
Barry is such a joy to see onscreen again. She is as hilarious as she was in “Breaking Away” (1979) and the series “Barney Miller” (1975-78) and adds a much-needed acerbity to this film as Nana Celeste. Her scenes with Mulgrew are the best parts of the film as they discuss motherhood, aging and coping with the unexpected. Nana Celeste is fully engaged with the world and not content to have her remaining years devolve into endless rounds of mah-jongg.
In contrast, Mulgrew is more subdued but can draw a laugh from a sardonically raised eyebrow or long, icy stare. As an oncologist, she has become more self-aware of her professional detachment as perhaps also a mechanism to shut herself off from her own personal loss. This makes her question how well she raised her four children alone when her husband, Morty (Richard Kind) left them.
Morty is not developed enough as a man struggling with severe mental health issues. For some inexplicable reason, he leaves the family and the country with no further contact. Since his wife is employed in the medical profession and New York City certainly has several top tier hospitals, this begs the question, why? Couldn’t she consult with other doctors to find him help, if not in New York, then somewhere in the same time zone, at least. This bizarre plot twist misses an opportunity for the script to explore further how mental health can impact families, particularly when a parent is struggling and how children can be affected.
Older daughter Daphne (Jackie Burns) also seems to be struggling with post-partum depression when we first meet her and her husband Alan (Greg Keller). Again, this could be an intriguing parallel with her father’s condition to explore in the script but is too quickly resolved to be believable. Older son Roland (Ian Kahn) is a bitter, resentful, and emotionally repressed stockbroker who continually sends his child to be examined by his mother as a way of expressing his love for her. Most of the Meyerson family are world class kvetchers (Yiddish, definition: complainers) but Roland is a little too biting in his vindictive to be amusing.
The younger siblings, Daniel (Daniel Eric Gold) a rabbinical student struggling with his faith and Susie, (Shoshannah Stern) a real estate agent with ambitions, are much more endearing. Stern brings a welcome warmth and affection to the story in her relationship with girlfriend, Tammy (Lauren Ridloff). Although Susie is deaf, the film thankfully does not depict her in any tired trope as needy or helpless. She seems to be the most stable and happy of the four Meyerson siblings.
A plot twist that supposedly brings new perspective to the family falls flat, maybe because it’s hard to believe these self-absorbed New Yorkers would really internalize the full implications of the event. Only Daniel seems to be affected, as he attempts to bring his family closer over a hastily planned dinner. He tells his older brother off for endlessly reminding him how he pays for his education and he gives his mother an opportunity to find some closure for her past pain. Daniel Eric Gold does a lot with some cliché dialog about searching for God and questioning life after death.
Overall, viewers should check out “The Magnificent Meyersons” for Mulgrew and Barry as a comedic duo we do not deserve but are so grateful we got to see. Richard Kind’s performance will hopefully spark conversations in some families about how to give more support and show more compassion to loved ones who need it most. They are not so magnificent, but these Meyersons got a lot of heart.
** “The Magnificent Meyersons” will be premiering on August 20th in New York City at the Marlene Meyerson JCC, Manhattan and in Los Angeles on August 27th at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino. It will also be available to screen on the websites of all locations. **