This is a movie whose title is technically inaccurate. It is not a story about a marriage but rather the disintegration of one. It is beautifully written and very well acted
The husband, Charlie Barber (Adam Driver,) is a director of theatrical plays, and the wife, Nicole Ryder Barber (Scarlett Johansson,) is a film actress who has been invited back to her native Los Angeles to appear in the pilot for a television show.
His professional life is in New York, and hers is in Hollywood. They go to a mediator to talk about things but refuse to talk about things. They agree to divorce amicably — without lawyers and without hostility. She packs up their son, eight-year-old Henry (Aszhy Robertson,) and heads west to her mom’s home in Laurel Canyon.
Most of the rest of the story is played on Nicole’s turf. She is happy to have left behind a life in which she felt her existence subsumed into Charlie’s greater local prominence. Charlie asserts, several times, that they have “always been a New York family,” and Nicole reminds him, also several times, that he turned down an opportunity to run LA’s Geffen Playhouse for a year.
She consults a lawyer (Laura Dern) who offers tea and sisterly commiseration and then crafts an aggressive plan for Nicole get full custody of their child.
He consults a nasty shark of a lawyer (Ray Liotta,) then switches a more amiable fellow (Alan Alda) and then goes back to the shark after Nicole’s lawyer begins showing her fangs.
There is a terrible exchange between the lawyers in a courtroom and then an even more blistering one between Nicole and Charlie.
Nobody dies, but there is no way the end of such a process can leave anyone undamaged. So it goes.
Personally, I would have liked to know a bit about the divorce’s effect on Nicole and Charlie’s child, but the film is long as it is and honestly has no room left for further emotional distractions. (Still, children almost always prefer to have both their parents in the same location.)
The writer and director of this piece is the esteemed Noah Baumbach, who has acknowledged that personal experience informed the story. The movie is excellent and feels quite true — but it still is difficult to watch.
Johanssen, Driver and Dern almost certainly will be nominated for Academy Awards next year.
Here again, Netflix has released a “movie” for a very short time in theaters just before making it available on its streaming channel. Marriage Story was not shown in any theater near my home of the moment, a Metropolitan Statistical Area with a scant 1.75 million residents.
My place has a nice television, sound system and Netflix subscription, but I lost the television habit when I went to college and never really got back to it again. I’m willing to dial up Netflix occasionally, but I’ve been happy not to spend much time with it, even with all the wonderful binge-watching opportunities on offer.
Except when theaters are full of patrons checking Instagram messages on their cellphones, I prefer seeing movies with a group of other people and observing how they react. It’s not the same as going to a play, of course, but it’s an experience, not a distraction running in the background while I take urgent phone calls or am in the kitchen getting a snack.
Maybe when I’m old and frail, I’ll change my mind. We’ll see.