There is a brilliant moment in writer-director Evan Oppenheimer’s “The Magnificent Meyersons” in which Dr. Terri Meyerson (Kate Mulgrew) is talking to her mother, Celeste (Barbara Barrie), and suggests that we are all the sum of our experiences, whether we remember them or not. The example here is that Celeste doesn’t have to remember having been to Burma when she was seven, the experience helped shape who she became even if she has absolutely no recollection of its occurrence.
This is undoubtedly true. We are shaped by what happens to us, we make decisions based upon what occurs even if we don’t remember the thing itself that caused the decision later on. This is a repeated theme in the very talkie (but not in a bad way) picture where Terri’s adult children—Daphne (Jackie Burns), Roland (Ian Kahn), Daniel (Daniel Eric Gold), and Susie (Shoshannah Stern)—all wander (or sit somewhere) around New York with various other folks (not their siblings) and cogitate. Sometimes the thoughts are deep and sometimes they are not, but they are all interesting.
They are all also, clearly, building to something. They have to be building to something. There would be no movie otherwise.
We have hints early on about that building as well. Richard Kind’s name is prominently featured amongst the cast and we see moments of him in an early montage, but then he is noticeably absent from the goings-on. Kind, we learn, is Morty, husband to Terri and father of her children. As the movie plays out we learn why he is off screen for so long, and how his presence/absence has affected those around him. It isn’t that everyone necessarily remembers every Morty moment, it’s that they are who they, in part, because of Morty’s choices. Just like they are who they are in part because of Terri and each other and everything else that has ever happened to them. Whether any decision is good or bad or ugly, it has had an influence.
It would be easy at this point to offer up descriptions of the adult children, off-hand single sentences to help keep them in mind (for example: Daniel is the rabbinical student). Even if the various conversations are organized around what these descriptions all too easily might look like (Susie is deaf and has a conversation in sign language with her girlfriend), they by no means encompass who each Meyerson is as a whole (Roland isn’t just a heartless big business guy and Daphne might actually be very happy with parts of her life).
Part of the way in which Oppenheimer has organized the film leads us to these single sentences descriptions while also making sure that we understand just how overly simplistic they are. As the movie plays out we get to learn more about the kids, even seeing them in flashbacks, and get a better sense of it all. Not that a better sense necessarily makes the entire affair work.
No, “The Magnificent Meyersons” has some very abrupt, very disruptive, changes as the story unfolds. It isn’t that we think we understand where it’s going from the start, it’s that the shifts can be very jerky and don’t necessarily seem to exist with rhyme or reason. Well, except that we are all (at least in part) the sum of the events of our lives. Consequently, to get to where everyone is at the climax of the film, all the characters need to have undergone all the various earlier bits, don’t they? If they didn’t, they might not act as they do when things come to a head.
One of the most interesting things the movie has to offer is the fact that, perhaps, the big things that happen in the world mean less than the little things. That is, what is globally small potatoes may be earth-shattering for individuals. It is an interesting way to look at the world, an interesting way to look at life, and maybe not incredibly profound but certainly worth mulling over.
Filled with engaging performances and an interesting perspective, “The Magnificent Meyersons” is a disarming sort of film. Not everything about it works, but there is plenty that does and, even if we have no desire to be a part of this family, spending time watching them on screen feels quite worthwhile. At the very least, you should consider adding it to the collective experiences that make you… you.
photo credit: Argot Pictures