The title of The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) tells us pretty much everything, particularly that warmly fussy parenthetical. This is the latest in that inexhaustible and apparently endlessly fascinating (though to whom?) subgenre of films that are somehow not based on short stories that first appeared in The New Yorker, despite all the appearances. In this case, the Meyerowitz stories are those of half-brothers Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller), sons of the retired sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), whose brief period of importance in the '60s or '70s wasn't that impressive to begin with, but which has loomed enormously large in the family mythology ever since. Large enough that Harold has, in the guise of encouraging his children in their artistic pursuits, passive-aggressively arranged to make sure that his two eldest, Danny and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), would always remain stunted in their expressiveness, while Matthew has abandoned art altogether in order to become a celebrity accountant in Los Angeles (the rest of the Meyerowitzes are, of course, hopelessly ensconced in New York).

The film, structured as vignettes, follows a couple of months or so in the family's life, as Harold - driven to a very quiet jealousy that his old friend and exact contemporary L.J. Shapiro (Judd Hirsch) would get a retrospective show at MoMA while he himself remains mostly forgotten - badgers his kids and fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) into arranging for his own small show at Bard College, where he used to teach, and where Danny's daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) has just entered the film program. The first large portion of the film focuses on Danny's utterly defeated feelings about his life as he deals with loathing his father and feeling guilty about loathing his father; the much shorter second is dedicated to Matthew's discomfort at obviously being the favorite, and his annoyance at the rest of the family's mildly sarcastic disparagement of his work - he is the only Meyerowitz to have any particular amount of financial success, on top of everything - and the third brings us to the show and what happens around it.

One thing that you'll not have noticed in all that is a segment about Jean, which is a tremendous mistake: Marvel's performance is an absolute marv miracle, the best in a strong cast, and the whole movie feels noticeably shallower as a direct result of her relative invisibility: as a matter of structure, as a matter of aesthetic pleasure, as a matter of not making another god-damned movie about god-damned emotionally arrested men in the god-damned New York art world, Jean should be much more of a focus. But nobody asked me. Writer-director Noah Baumbach realises this; he includes a literally parenthetical moment shifting the focus to her for just a few minutes, but it's honestly worse than if there had been nothing at all.

Anyway, what we're left with is a movie that has a lot of very good individual moments - very good indeed. Baumbach has been here before - the film is basically a warmer, more adult version of his 2005 The Squid and the Whale - and there's an exacting precision to how he writes the interactions between the characters, as well as how he guides the actors through their interactions. Not every performance or two-hander exchange is created equal: Thompson is left frustratingly separated from the rest of the film, and merely swans about playing a loopy sometime-drunk, and Stiller isn't doing anything particularly special - certainly not as severe and driven a performance as he and Baumbach placed in the center of the 2010 Greenberg (the last of Baumbach's "people are utter shit" cycle, and also the last one of his films I wholly loved). But even these two are both capable of some wonderful reactions and individual moments, and the rest of the cast is giving virtually nothing but - the relationship between Hoffman's Harold and Sandler's Danny (Sandler is phenomenal, incidentally) is a faultless depiction of the tetchiness and silent psychological warfare in a mutually unsatisfying parent-child relationship that has, for reasons of convenience and inertia, remained much too close over the years (it's anyway monumental improvement over the last time they played father and son). The sideways glances, the too-long beats between lines of dialogue, the pent-up Sandlerian rage that keeps happening only in his eyes; these are all wonderful things. And when Marvel shows up to dispense sharp little asides in a desperate, fatigued voice, that is more wonderful still.

So what's not to love? Well, other than the absolute mishandling of Marvel and her character, there's the incredibly troubling overfamiliarity of absolutely everything in this film: hell, we've not only gotten mostly this movie from Baumbach before, we've gotten mostly this movie from Stiller before as well, given that he's basically playing a flatter version of his character from The Royal Tenenbaums, by Baumbach's sometime-collaborator Wes Anderson. And that's not exactly a problem, but given how many of The Meyerowitz Stories's same lessons, and themes, and exact specific scenes, have been in other movies, it's a bit less insightful than the razor-sharp precision of the character scenes would imply (there is a "the brothers finally have it out by fighting, in suits, on the front lawn" scene followed almost instantly by a "somebody breaks down and has a personal revelation while trying to give a public speech" scene).

The writing is sharp enough, the filmmaking somewhat less so (Baumbach and editor Jennifer Lame are overly in love with a repeated thing where they cut-off emotionally intense lines of dialogue in the middle of the last word; also with fades to black, which is less cutesily irritating but also more objectively bad). It's a very literary film, for good and for bad - mostly for good. It gives the actors a lot to do, and they almost exclusively do it well, and generally they're quite funny about it. But it's much less than the sum of its parts: several masterpiece-level scenes that cumulatively turn into the latest in an infinite chain of Woody Allen knock-offs. In the past, Baumbach distinguished himself with the caustic misanthropy that gave his best films all their bite and wisdom, but his 2010s turn towards warmth has put a stop to that; The Meyerowitz Stories feels like nothing more or less than The Squid and the Whale, but less so. There's a lot of warmth here, but not much in the way of distinguishing features.