Marriage Story (2019)
November 23, 2019 1:21 PM - Subscribe

A stage director and his actor wife (and their child) struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Weaver, Wallace Shawn, and Azhy Robertson as Henry (with a scene-stealing performance by Martha Kelly as the child custody evaluator).
posted by sallybrown (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I thought this film was incredible. Some of the most moving close-up shots since Moonlight, all of the scenes involving the lawyers nailed the dynamics (down to the fish tank in one office and the rush of excitement for ordering lunch and the fact that Alda’s character’s advice was discarded in favor of Liotta’s), the almost-slapstick comedy scenes of Merritt Weaver serving the divorce papers and Martha Kelly watching Driver slice his arm open by accident. Driver singing “Being Alive” brought tears to my eyes.

And yet...there was still something missing from it for me, like the film didn’t fully make it around to realizing how wrong Driver’s character was, or maybe the ways he was wrong and the reasons why. His choice to keep fighting for New York (that reflected his larger ignoring of his son in reality in favor of his son as a power struggle)—did the character and the film understand how bad that was? After the blowout, horrible fight in his rental apartment, the film seems to embrace the ways in which Johansson’s character was right—about their marriage, their kid being happier in LA, how things her husband wants are “a promise” while things she wants are “we’ll think about it.” But I wasn’t sure that Driver’s character understood how much of his anger stemmed from an unfairness of life that can’t be fixed—that sometimes things that are better for your kid are worse for you, and that’s not someone’s particular fault—or realized that he let himself get caught into the rip-off scheme that divorce lawyer can be at times (not all divorce lawyers!). The film did a good job of illustrating how so much of litigation is people trying to use lawyers and the courts to tell themselves stories about their lives and failures—you are wrong and I am right, and if you won’t admit that I am going to make a judge shove it down your throat!!!—and instead it just drains them and whittles them down, and no one wins. I guess I just wasn’t sure whether the film intended to portray that, or whether it got caught up in the same self-righteousness as Driver’s character.

Driver is so mesmerizing that perhaps I just felt too charmed by him—how could anyone resist the sight of him crying on that bed?—for a character who was ultimately kind of a monster, albeit a very common one.
posted by sallybrown at 1:53 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

That Driver's character never really gets it is the point of view in
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:27 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]

Virtually everybody else in this film is more interesting to watch than the two leads, especially the attorneys played by Dern and Liotta. Their pumped-up personas seemed, weirdly, more real to me than either the husband or the wife.

The movie suffers from not showing any downside to the divorce for Johhanson's character. We don't see her struggling to make ends meet, or scrambling to find an attorney or a place to live like we do with Driver's character. We don't see her having to confront any difficult situations with their child. Granted, the loss of the marriage itself is the ultimate downside, but from a storytelling point of view, the audience isn't given much to work with with her.

Driver is supposedly a MacArthur 'Genius' award winner, but he doesn't display any sort of special creativity or intelligence. That said, he doesn't come off as a bad father, or an especially difficult spouse. It's hard, for me, to think of him as a villain.

I went into this movie wanting to see a realistic depiction of a marriage in conflict, because I think that subject is mostly gotten wrong in film and television. I wanted to see something more along the lines of Hawke & Delpy in Before Midnight. We get a fight scene in Marriage Story, but the rest of the movie doesn't prepare enough to really let us feel for either of the characters when it goes down.
posted by spudsilo at 2:01 PM on December 9

I empathized very strongly with Henry, and to that end the film did a pretty poor job of representing the impact that the divorce would have on the kid, particularly when there are clear power plays going on between the parents with the kid as the leverage. I've, like, been there. Henry would be going to therapy, acting out, crying, confused. Instead he's the Chill Kid who does nothing but play with his toys and piss off his dad by not wanting to wear the costume he had custom made, and doesn't even seem perturbed when his dad is passed out on the floor with blood everywhere.

Also the singing-in-the-bar was 100% indulgent and unnecessary. But apparently that is a thing now?
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:23 AM on December 10 [1 favorite]

This is the first time ever I've seen Ray Liotta in a white dress shirt and a suit - I couldn't recognize him.
A very touching, sad film.
posted by growabrain at 5:33 PM on December 10

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