[FILM] Marriage Story

Marriage Story is a drama-romance film directed by Noah Baumbach and it features Lost in Translation and Avengers star Scarlett Johansson and the galaxy’s latest Dark Lord from Star Wars Adam Driver. The movie is released by Netflix and it has a fairly simple story: a married couple who is undergoing a divorce. It is a story of marriage, except one that is told from the end.

Call it simplicity at its best but this film has been nominated in six categories at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards including the Best Motion Picture (Drama).

Update: Congratulations to Laura Dern for her Golden Globe and Academy Award for her role as Nora Fanshaw!


Charlie and Nicole when they were still together

The Westlife song has never been more accurate. The show is about a Los Angeles and New York family. Coming from where I live where the east and west ends are only 90 mins drive apart, I could not fathom how hard a marriage would be for a couple with roots on both coasts of America. Soon-to-be divorced couple Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) is an Indiana-born theater company director who now lives in New York City and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) has her roots in sunny Los Angeles. The couple met over a play and as time passes, they fell in love and soon got married. But this was revealed to be too fast for Charlie, a then-young up-and-coming theater director who actually has plans to expand his career first rather than to settle down with a family. Nonetheless, even when they got married Charlie still does his job as a doting father to their son Henry, husband and director well. He maintains good relations with Nicole’s family even after the couple’s split.

I like how the director started the movie with Charlie and Nicole’s peer appraisals of each other. It gave the impression that the audience will be seeing the coming and falling apart of a marriage but truth is, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of an once happy couple. The two seem to have gotten closer because of their shared passion for the arts but this passion was able to sustain their marriage especially when they have a child. A former teen actress, Nicole decided to return to television after spending some years in theater with her husband. This prompted Nicole to reallocate to Los Angeles with her son Henry on a temporary basis. What was originally agreed to be an amicable split without a lawyer turned to be a nasty courtroom fight and shaming when Nicole sought out the family lawyer Nora. Cut the long story short, Charlie consulted an expensive but successful lawyer Jay to defend him and the whole show was about proving their parenting and personalities so that the judge can decide who gets custody of Henry.


The bulk of the movie was spent seeing the two negotiating the divorce settlement and proving to the court that they are the best suited to take care of Henry. And it was through each other’s divorce did we see the ugly side of the truth. Charlie, although is concerned over Henry’s academic performance, especially in reading, and his wellbeing, Charlie is emotionally distant to his child. Meanwhile, Nicole is a mother that devotes much of her time and attention to Henry but she herself is also often drinking. The parents complement each other’s weaknesses but because of their differences, they are unable to do so. It was pretty sad because all the moving back and forth of people in Henry’s life only makes his life more difficult.

But who is to say who is right or wrong in the relationship? While Nicole is indeed closer to Henry, she was the one who went back against the promise to consult a lawyer for a divorce. She was the one who chose not to cooperate in the mediator’s office too. Technically speaking, her actions led to the name-calling and shaming session in the court. Often at times, she does not play very fairly to Charlie. For instance, Charlie was given the ‘second half’ of Halloween night and by the time it was Charlie’s turn to have fun with Henry, Henry was tired. Not to mention, Henry decided to go trick and treating in a ninja costume similar to his cousins (on Nicole’s side) than what was initially agreed between Charlie and Henry. It is only at times like this do I feel sorry for Charlie. As the husband, he has to pay a percentage of Nicole’s lawyer fees, find a family lawyer which was previously not consulted by Nicole within 30 days because Nicole went to file her divorce papers, and even rent an apartment in LA to defend himself as a capable and responsible father. Meanwhile, Nicole had the support of her TV cast and family members to get her through by. She continues to drink and like Charlie, even had an affair with one of the production crew.

In spite of their differences, Charlie and Nicole still care and love for each other. They just aren’t a good fit for each other.


Charlie’s breakdown

What really amazes me in this film is its genuine portrayal of a divorce settlement, the process and its aftermath. Long in movies and television dramas have we seen divorce being a simple matter of just signing papers. Marriage Story takes on the emotional costs that comes with a divorce. It is certainly more than just living in different homes, it is about the future of your children, the settlement of the your assets and I feel, more about dealing with the facts that you are someone you feel emotionally and romantically attached to can’t be the person you belong with.

It has a simple story yet it is so emotionally intense and the cast has delivered a superb performance in this movie.

“You liked this life until you decided you hated it.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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