MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Marriage Story - On Netflix Streaming
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver
It would have been easy enough to title this movie Divorce Story. After all, it is a film about Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver), a couple in their 30s who are in the process of ending their marriage, with a plethora of lawyers, counselors, family members and observers assisting them in the process. But Marriage Story is a better title, for the film is really about just how much work and care are required to keep a couple united in the shared covenant of marriage.
Writer-Director Noah Baumbach opens the film with two monologues in which we hear Charlie and Nicole describe the things that they admire about each other. Their words of affection are accompanied by a wistful Randy Newman score and a montage of fondly remembered moments. We soon learn that this is actually a writing assignment that a mediator required from them before any further arbitration would take place. When it comes time to actually read and share their essays with each other, one of them reneges on following through. In just a few minutes we are shown that simply appreciating the strengths of your partner is not enough. There is no doubt that Charlie and Nicole truly care about each other, but marriage is going to need more than that.
Charlie is an acclaimed New York stage director and Nicole is an actress who is also a part of Charlie’s stage company. But Nicole is approaching midlife and beginning to resent the ways in which her husband’s goals and dreams have eclipsed hers. The couple has grown distant from one another, leading to a short (and regretful) affair by Charlie. Now Nicole would like to move with Henry to California to be closer to her mother (Julie Hagerty) and to pursue a possible acting career in television. At the center of their relationship is their mutual love for their 8-year-old son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Both parents want to be a part of Henry’s world; but first this divorce has to be hammered out.
Marriage Story does a nice job showing how the legal process of divorce can exacerbate a potentially amicable separation with a process that is costly in every sense. The genius of this film is that it is honest about the pain of hiring lawyers to end a marriage (and the ironies and contradictions involved), but also straightforward about the necessity of this process. We have a fine trio of lawyers in this movie, with Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta all having memorable scenes.
The only shortcoming of this film may be its rarified East Coast/West Coast upper-middle-class characters. Yes, sacrifices will have to be made to pay all of those legal fees, but at the end of the day the fees are paid (or at least paid off in regular payments). And yet, I think there is enough of human interest to engage most viewers who don’t move in the same social circles. Noah Baumbach writes from what he knows (he is a child of divorced parents and has also experienced divorce); to his credit, Marriage Story is the most compassionate and least cynical film in his career. In spite of being very painful to watch at times, the movie includes some really funny scenes that made me laugh out loud while also humanizing the vast cast of characters. There are no truly bad people in Marriage Story, but imperfect people trying to move on with their lives. Divorce happens but relationships with children and ex-spouses continue. We need every ounce of grace; Marriage Story provides a satisfying draught.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A film about divorce that is compassionate, kind and honest.
Two pitchforks: A lot of swearing; infidelities past; some frank sex talk.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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