“Faith is a torment, did you know that? It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.”
Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman In one of the scenes in “Marriage Story”, an ‘evaluator’ visits the soon to be divorced Charlie (Adam Driver) and his son Henry at their apartment to check on how good and productive a father Charlie is. After a few hours, Charlie talks about how he keeps a small knife which is tied in his keychain away from Henry so that he doesn’t get hurt. As he finishes his statement while showing off the knife, he accidentally cuts his hand with it. The cut is visibly deep, and the evaluator asks his “Are you OK?” and Charlie replies, “Yeah its all fine”. She again asks the same question and he emphatically repeats his answer. As he helps the evaluator out, his entire shirt sleeve is soaked in blood and after he closes the door, he rushes to the kitchen counter to find some bandage and falls down on the floor.
In another scene, Nora, the feisty divorce lawyer informs Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) that she has hustled a 55/45 visitations for Henry as part of the divorce settlement and gloats how she never wanted Charlie to have a 50/50 share. These scenes from the movie show how painful it can be for couples when their marriage breaks up and how they pretend to ‘normalize’ everyday problems and ultimately ‘blow their cover’. “Marriage Story” is produced by Netflix and is currently streaming all over the world.
Marriage Story is directed by Noah Baumbach ( The Squid and The Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) is a film about the family of Charlie, Nicole and their son Henry. Charlie and Nicole both work in arts and entertainment area. Nicole is a LA based actress who meets Charlie and shifts to New York to support his theatre ambitions and works mostly in his own theatre productions and helps him with the production. After a few years, Henry is born and things are normal. As time passes, Nicole feels that she is being limited and marginalized by Charlie. An opportunity comes from LA for her which is highly lucrative and post that they both decide to move separate ways and she moves to LA with Henry and Charlie keeps visiting every month to meet Henry. Meanwhile the divorce, separation proceedings also continue with several twists and turns. It’s between these events, we are introduced to the supporting cast of the film which includes Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT ‘MARRIAGE STORY’?
If taken at a single glance, films of Woody Allen like “Annie Hall” and other conversation heavy/ New York centric films come to mind. I also was reminded of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From A Marriage”. The genre of break ups/ love has been explored many times. However, what Noah Baumbach does here differently is the evolution of ‘loss’ of a relationship as a gradual process rather than just an ‘abrupt’ event like its shown in most films. The writing of the characters of Charlie and Nicole is almost flawless. Both of them keep taking a lot of time where they ‘fully’ accept that their marriage is over. There are scenes in which you almost feel that both of them will get back together but they never do. The very fact that both these characters are artists from the creative sphere gives them the license to express themselves quite openly. Also, the so called ‘evil’ comes into play at really unexpected moments. There is an argument scene between Nicole and Charlie at the end of which Charlie breaks down totally and he is consoled by Nicole. The gist of this writing style of Noah Baumbach puts a concerted effort to explain as to “what remains of love in a painful break-up”. To put it simply, there are tidbits of respect and admiration but ultimately the hate/rejection takes the center seat. The evolution of their feelings for each other is quite striking. But a lot of this is also fueled by the amazing supporting cast of “Marriage Story”.
THE LAWYERS OF “MARRIAGE STORY”
The real class act from the perspective of the storytelling are the divorce/settlement lawyers of Charlie and Nicole. Laura Dern as Nora in her tall/lanky and super classy Hollywoodian looks more like a socialite/actress rather than a lawyer. Baumbach has intentionally made her look a bit fake. In the scene where she meets Nicole for the first time is refreshingly weird. She claims to be Nicole’s ‘close friend’ and gives her the emotional support as she bursts into tears after explaining her ordeal. Nora looks like your best friend and a liberal at heart but at the end ‘she talks shop’. Dern looks gorgeous and devilish at the same time.
Alan Alda as Bert who advises Charlie is top rate as well. Alda brings his decades of acting experience in playing around with Charlie. In one of the scenes where he is joking with him when they are discussing a settlement with Nora and Nicole, Charlie remarks “Am I paying for this joke?”. In his opening scene, Bert advises, “Charlie, be a good husband in the divorce”. Alda as the aged lawyer brings credence to the fact the American jurisprudence is brutal to divorcees. A retainer fee of $10k a month is charged for the work by decent lawyers. This is both financially and emotionally draining for the couple. But Bert is a memorable character here as he amplifies the conflict in a subtle way.
Ray Liotta as the ‘sharkish’ Joe has to be the most savage lawyer you can know. Charlie asks him whether Nora is a fair lawyer or not? Joe replies “ I earn $800 an hour and my associate here makes $400 an hour, so please put all the dumb questions to him”. The look on Charlie’s face is like a kid staring at a snake.
There is a lot of humanity in these supporting parts and the ‘lawyers’ fuel the conflict and its various shades.
PERFORMANCES OF “MARRIAGE STORY”
Adam Driver, “the Kylo Ren of Star Wars” goes onto a whole new level of acting. His mental as well as physical expressiveness is just superb. He goes from super calm to absolute insanity and then back to calm in no time.
This has to be Scarlett Johansson’s role of a lifetime. She totally de-constructs her acting mould from a sexy bombshell to a broken mother brilliantly. You will cry with her at least once when you are watching the film!
“Marriage Story” has snagged 6 Golden Globe nominations edging past “The Irishman”. This itself is a testament to the quality of writing, direction and acting in this simple story. I recommend this movie to anyone in a relationship. It hits you like no other love story ever did!
I give this movie a 9 out of 10.