Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Adam Driver (Charlie) Scarlette Johansson (Niocle) Azhy Robertson (Henry) Laura Dern (Nora)
I woke up at 8:30 this morning determined to begin this series. I wrestled with a list of movies I needed to see, but ultimately decided on this one. The only way to get better at writing is to write, and the only way to know more about film is to watch, study, and react. I am a self proclaimed semi-cinefile, and my knowledge of film does not span beyond one semester of film study at University in London. What I took from that class was my own inspiration derived from different film studies I embarked on and they made me want to write. I am writing this preface to express that my intention here is not to come off as a pretentious or self-insistant of my knowledge on films, but to simply provide detailed opinion and hopefully noteworthy insight that provides inspiration, direction, creativity, and interest. Please feel free to join this quasi movie club by suggesting different films to me as well.
Marriage Story is a film that resonates with some, reaches others, and all together tells a real story while using fictious people. I read a joke on social media that poked fun at the critically acclaimed argument scene between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlette Johansson) that said “if they get an oscar so should my upstairs neighbors.” Reluctantly I laughed, but as I contemplated this movie after the first watch I realized that in that joke is proof of just how impactful and on point this film was. Charlie and Nicole were that couple that wallowed in a toxic over the top form of love. The outset of the movie garnered a bit of apprehension on my part because I was afraid it would be a drawn out story of love and subsequent hate, but the beginning was actually more hopeless than the end.
We ( I ) were (was) orginally influenced to believe that Nicole Barber was a woman wading in the pain of a loveless marriage. However, the occupations the couple held added an interesting element to the storyline that changed my opinion on that front. Charlie was a director that along with his wife started an upward trending theatre in Brooklyn, and Nicole was his fearless lead who at first was the marquee but slowly became another character connected to his genius. As a viewer I realized before it became apparent in the script that he was living his best life and in that life she was just a moving part. I found this unfair and evidently so did Nicole.
The writing displayed by Noah Baumbach in this film was comfortably conversational and at the same time genuine enough make the story real. The subtlties in the way Charlie and Nicole communicate with each other make their pain palpable. The direction coupled with the writing brought this story to life. Life is not a perfect line of call and response and you did not see that in this film. Little things like conversations carrying to other rooms, people yelling over each other, and the overall purposeful disorganized nature of their life depicted the nature of how this story would pan out.
The way the story played out compelled the viewer to sympathize with Charlie for a large part of the movie even despite learning damning news about his actions. Charlie plays a naive and clueless man who has a blind trust for Nicole through a divorce process the two have polar opposite ideas about. As he gradually learns more about what might happen the numbness and coldness seems to engulf him. The fact is his flaw is that he is selfish and oblivious at times in this movie.
The juxtaposition of the three main lawyers in this film was an added element of human nature that provided a crutch for viewers that do not know about what Charlie and Nicole went through to eventually end where they did. Nora (Laura Dern) was a chaotic good, a lawyer always looking to win and in the end always doing so. Dern’s character had many memorable moments in this film, which in turn earned her a Golden Globe, but her most revealing was her last as she tells Nicole “you won,” which is a call back to the argument scene where Adam Driver’s character tells his wife “your’e insane, and your’e winning” as the two miscommunicate the topic of conversation and what exactly it means to be winning in this situation. Bert (Alan Alda) was a chaotic neutral who, without saying, was clearly impacted by his divorce history and thus negatively impacting the mindstate of Charlie. He created a true element of time in this film as he suggested that Charlie cut his losses and wait for Henry to grow up and form a true opinion of his father. The chaotic evil of the three lawyers is Jay (Ray Liotta) who sees Charlie as a number, simply a source of commission, and in turn does the best by Charlie. I thought it was a really honest and therefore intruiging touch that the characters openly admit that evil in this process is rewarded, it took some nasty things being said for the couple to understand that.
Henry Barber’s dynamic in this film was innocent and displayed a level of realism that was accurate for children of divorce. Henry only had a vague knowledge of the situation and yet these two were fighting for the right to uproot his life from one coast to another. Henry reinforces Bert’s claim of time by gradually growing away from his father, and warming closer to his mother. This expresses the raw attention span of children and how they adapt to change by simply doing what is in front of them. Charlie laid fetal on the kitchen floor, clenching his bloodied arm, clearly distressed and Henry seems to show very little concern. I thought this was a eerily accurate depiction of how naive kids can be, and it serves to make you think; “how many times have I done that to my parents?”
My favorite scene in this film came closer to the end. As I stated previously the beginning of this film was more hopeless than the end. The proceedings were coming to a breathless empty close and the man who finds family in anyone around him sought out his theatre troop as a source of venting. As he confides he stops himself and a piano melody begins. In an act of randomness he begins to sing almost as if this film had been a musical the entire time. “Someone to hold you too close, someone to hurt you too deep, somone to sit in your chair and ruin your sleep,” is how the song starts with an air of disapproval for this “someone but it ends with the his desire for this someone. In a caricature dialouge he has with himself Charlie urges himself; “want something… WANT SOMETHING.” He responds to this by asking this “somebody” to do all of the things he previously mentioned citing the reasoning as feeling alive. He adds that being alone is not being alive. You can watch the scene below.
I’d say this movie explains love. It does not have resonate with you, frankly it did not resonate with me in the slightest. It reached me however, and made me realize how draining love can be. Love has a tendancy to start as a want, form into a necessity, and eventually become a chore. Eventually you lose yourself in a person, and they tend to know you better than you know you. And much like you do for theirs, they become responsible for your being. It is not optional most of the time, this kind of love. This kind of love is numbing. It is a feeling where the thought of being around that person is taxing and tiring, but the thought of being away from that person is deflating and depressing. In many ways love itself is self depricating, but as Adam Driver protrays in his solo; it makes you feel alive, and as long as you feel alive you’re not alone. The question is if feeling alive is worth the toll love takes on the human heart, mind, and body.
Respond to me with your thoughts, and thank you for reading