Marriage Story–The Anatomy of a Break-Up

noah baumbach(Noah Baumbach introducing film at New York Film Festival-October 4)


(Marriage Story stars introduced at New York Film Festival – October 4)

This is an unsparing chronicle of the dissolution of a marriage and its aftermath. Furious, tender, funny and possibly a little hopeful, Noah Baumbach’s film takes us through the stages Nicole (Scarlet Johannson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) travel with their young son, Henry, as they attempt to navigate the agonies and frustrations of breaking up with grace.parents and child (vox)

Charlie is a successful avant-garde Broadway director and Nicole his muse, star, wife and mother of his child. She leaves a budding TV and movie career in Los Angeles to go to New York with him and join his acting company. He is so talented, he is awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant and she is so much a part of his success, he acknowledges her crucial role in his winning the grant. trumpet(dailydot)

Charlie, though a great and loving dad, fails to see that Nicole, a fine actor, is only living through his choices and at his direction (no coincidence that he is a director and she an actor) and that her artistic and personal needs are being ignored. In fact, she only gradually realizes it herself. Though she constantly asks that they return to Los Angeles where her family lives, and though he agrees in principle that they should, he never makes the choice to do so, though opportunities arise. Why is he so dense?

scarlet(spin) Her increasing frustration, added to his brief infidelity, build into an anger that can only find its escape in leaving him and New York. She goes to Los Angeles with Henry, succeeds with the television pilot and temporary becomes likely-to-stay. Throughout, however, Charlie and Nicole continue to discuss ordinary child-rearing issues, such as why is he having so much difficulty reading? and should you reward your child for pooping?

Where they should live becomes a major bone of contention as they begin to talk in detail about divorce. Nicole serves a surprised Charlie with papers and asks him “well, what did you expect?” He says, “not this.” In fact, he seems late to the party, not getting it until his life is upended with the loss of his wife and son.adam 2(41a)

They want a civilized parting, without lawyers and can’t imagine that they would resort to the things other separating couples do, but she hires a tough lawyer, played skillfully by Laura Dern  and he has no choice but to do likewise. First he tries to go cheap and hires a retired and kindly lawyer, played by a touching Alan Alda, but finds his attorney is no match for hers and eventually goes back to the shark he first interviewed. Ray Liotta plays him in a devastatingly funny turn.

A hilarious and painful scene takes place in court, where the lawyers trade barbs and the couple sinks in embarrassment. You can almost see them thinking they can’t believe they’d ever get to this point. The judge seems to be disgusted too and refers the case to a mediator, a weird and amusing third party with peculiar methods who seems to hold them both in her power.

talking together(slashfilm) Later, Nicole comes to see Charlie and in what starts out as a genuine attempt to try to find common ground without their lawyers, a scene develops into a screaming yelling fight filled with both of them saying all the ugly things you know should never be said but were there all the time underneath. Johannson and Driver are both brilliant with Driver finally dissolving into an agonized mess as he realizes what kind of a person he has become.adam

(discussingfilm) These people cared about each other once and the vestiges of that love are still there, along with a certain selfishness and oblivious disregard of each other’s needs. At no point does the director, Noah Baumbach, take the easy way out. I kept thinking, “so go live in LA, you doofus,” but Charlie doesn’t contemplate that until it may be too late. After each moving scene, where the ghost of their old feelings reappears, I kept asking myself, will they get together after this? Or at least kiss? But  Nicole and Charlie are stuck in their reality and can’t seem to break out of it except with devastating effect on each other, and Baumbach makes them go through it until the end.subway(variety)

Anyone who has seen Driver on stage in “Burn This” has an idea of the fearsome power he can unleash in front of an audience and we see it again in this film.  Of course, he has several big dramatic and funny scenes, plus he delivers a terrific performance of Sondheim’s, “Being Alive”, from “Company.” He seems to have more of the good stuff, maybe because the movie is really about Charlie’s eventual understanding of the forces that separate him from his family and his gradual change into thinking more of their needs. He is annoying, heartbreaking and lovable all at the same time. In the hands of a less skillful actor, Charlie would merely be annoying.

leaving subway(imdb) Johannson performs at her peak with a less grateful part; she has never been better. In the hands of a less skillful actor, Nicole might have been merely the stereotypical dissatisfied wife.

At the risk of sounding like an unrealistic optimist, I felt the film ended on an oh-so-slight note of hope. I may be alone in this.the three(filmaffinity)










Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s