This one will sink its hooks into you and not let go for the whole
excruciating 136 minutes. It’s
called a marriage story, but it’s really about the breakup.
And it’s so painful to watch that inevitable slide toward
Oh, we begin positively. The
mediator had asked the divorcing couple to first write out, in longhand,
all that they really liked about the spouse: the things that made them
fall in love with them in the first place.
The mediator said that he thinks that’s an important thing to
remember at the beginning of the process.
And so we’re regaled with compliments about the wife, voiced by
the husband, and then the husband, voiced by the wife. It’s
beautifully done, and very touching. But
then, when the mediator asks them to read aloud what they’d written to
each other, she refuses. She
doesn’t want to do it, even though he’s willing.
And she gets up and slams the door in a huff, and we are hereby
served notice that this isn’t going to be as easy as both of them said
they hoped it would be.
Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) was from L.A., and her Mom was a
television actress, but she met Charlie (Adam Driver), an aspiring theater
director, and when they got married she starred in his plays.
They both enjoyed success.
The had a son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), and they seemed like a happy
family, but there was tension underneath.
She felt that he didn’t take seriously her desire to be an
actress on television in L.A. He
would discuss it, but then dismiss it, because their life was in New York.
But then, when she gets offered a part in a pilot, she decides she
really wants to go do that. Charlie
is supportive to a point---but he always assumed that once her gig was
over, she (and Henry) would return to New York.
But she says she never assumed that.
She wants him to follow her to L.A. But his play has just made
Broadway, and so his work is there. And
there’s the intractable difference.
Of course once the lawyers get involved, the rancor rises to a new
level. Her attorney (Laura
Dern) knows how to be gracious, but when she’s in attack mode she’s a
formidable opponent. He keeps
claiming that they were going to try to handle this themselves, without
lawyers, but now it’s too late for that.
At first, he hires an affable family friend (Alan Alda), but then,
when he figures out how quickly that nice guy is ready to give in to her
insistence on Henry living in L.A., he hires his own attack attorney (Ray
Liotta). Now every little
slip-up is magnified and thrown out there for all to examine.
The judge, exasperated, orders a supposedly neutral observer.
Charlie’s routine is extraordinarily affected by all the
necessary trips to L.A., including establishing a domicile other than a
hotel room. Nicole has her
dysfunctional family to support her, but there are moments when her
interaction with Charlie is going to seem almost tender, until it
tragically breaks down into the almost-inevitable mutual recrimination.
It’s painful to watch. But
both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are superb in their multi-faceted
roles. (And as a bonus, Driver
sings a touching rendering of Sondheim's “Being Alive,” from the
musical “Company”.) Writer and Director Noah Baumbach has given them a
powerful script to deliver, and is not afraid to allow the viewer to feel
the angst. The agony of the
dissolution is palpable enough to suggest some Academy Awards nominations.
But it’s not fun for anybody.