(a “childish” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
I guess not all film reviews I write are fun. I’m not particularly looking forward to reviewing MARRIAGE STORY, but I also don’t feel like I have any other choice. The “not fun” part of writing this review is the pain so abundantly clear and experienced while watching this film and the lingering of that pain long after the credits have rolled.
If I had written and directed this film as Noah Baumbach did, I would have called it, CHILDREN STORY, because this film is about two married adults with a child who are actually children themselves. They didn’t think that getting married and having a child would reserve their adult years back into childhood, but that’s exactly what happened, and it’s exactly what happens in many, many marriages. The child or the children born from a marriage bring the mother back into her womb and the father back into his “womb” of childhood trauma. And did I mention how painful that is to watch? I’m not married but I still was able to recognize the pain of childhood.
Charlie and Nichole are really beautiful people. The film starts with each member of the marriage pre-divorce talking about the other person’s positive traits. They write these out for their marriage counselor; Charlie is all ready to read his list about Nichole, but she won’t read hers about Charlie. Why? We, as viewers, need to hear these positive traits about them at the beginning because the rest of the film is about their negative traits and how that destroys their marriage and also almost destroys them. In fact, what’s interesting is that their young son, Henry, seems to be the most adult one in this trio. Charlie and Nichole are children and they are childish. They both want what the other won’t give them or can’t give them, and I don’t know if they really come to realize that. Nichole tells Charlie, “you are so selfish that you have forgotten just how selfish you are!” I loved that line! I loved that line because I could relate to it even though I’m not in a marriage. And Charlie can’t understand for the life of him why Nichole is holding back things from him. Nichole isn’t holding anything back from Charlie. It’s just that Charlie never dealt with his own mom’s inability to love him well. Now, the film doesn’t say that but it does say that Charlie never talks about his family of origin because there was alcohol and violence in it. That alone tells me that there was dysfunctionality (big surprise!) and Charlie never healed from it. I’m just guessing about Charlie’s mom and not that I want to be right but I bet I am!
Watching MARRIAGE STORY brought back for me the reaction many audience viewers had to 1980’s FATAL ATTRACTION. What FATAL ATTRACTION did for men considering an extramarital affair is what MARRIAGE STORY does for men and women considering a divorce. In other words, “Don’t do it!” The divorce of Charlie and Nichole, as it plays out in this film, is extremely grueling, extremely debilitating, extremely hurtful, and just flat-out extreme. I wept often during this film because I couldn’t stand to see what these beautiful people were doing to each other. Charlie was a successful theatre director and Nichole was his star actress. But both of their egos left the stage to go offstage, and that’s where the real “extreme” happens for them. Why I call this a “childish” film review is because ego IS childish, i.e., it wants what it wants and doesn’t think about what the other person wants. Ego doesn’t want to bend, move, or change for NOBODY! Ego is about as stubborn as it comes, and Charlie and Nichole BOTH have very, VERY stubborn egos. But they’re beautiful people, as I mentioned, and talented and warm and have so much to offer one another, if they could just look past their egos.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play Nichole and Charlie, and their performances are astounding and heartbreaking!. I’ve always liked Scarlett Johansson because she has been in many films from one of my favorite directors, Woody Allen. Here, in this film, her emotional accessibility is truly profound and limitless, and she makes you laugh and cry, often at the same time. I don’t know much about Adam Driver. I want to say he was in a Spike Lee film a few years back about the Ku Klux Klan. Not being familiar with an actor’s work can be a really great thing, because you have nothing to compare with the performance at hand. Charlie is a tall, “shaggy” (Nichole cuts his hair pre- and post-divorce), lanky man who Driver embodies as a quiet, seemingly unperturbed soul, until the divorce proceedings heat up and he is thrown into the lion’s den. Toward the end of the film when Charlie is hanging out with his theatre friends in New York after the divorce, he gets up and sings Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive”at a piano bar. I have zero words to describe that moment, because I just about fell apart after Driver sang the last note. It was stunning! Laura Dern plays Nichole’s California divorce lawyer, Nora, and Dern won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress this year. Dern provides the much-needed comic relief, and she is phenomenally great!
If you are married, see this film. If you are single, see this film. If you are thinking of getting a divorce or about to get divorced, see this film. And even though you are an adult in any stage of your life and your relationships, romantic or not, make you feel like a child, MARRIAGE STORY will truly ring true for you. It did for me.