Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story follows a couple going through a divorce.
The film opens with voice over narratives from Charlie, played by Adam Driver, and Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, describing the things they like/love about their partner complete with visual montages of each narrative. When asked by their marriage counselor to share these aloud with each other, Nicole refuses to participate citing she “doesn’t like what she wrote”. (You’ll find out why if you pay attention later to what she says in the lawyer’s office.) What follows is the completely unnecessary disintegration of a family and a spotlight on what narcissism does to relationships.
Am I supposed to feel something for Nicole because she hasn’t been heard? Because she always has to do what Charlie wants and not what she wants? Because she’s not the star? Well, I didn’t. In fact, Nicole annoys me. I think Charlie nails it when he sums up her whining. She wanted it until she didn’t. She made her choices. Now everyone has to pay for her new choice to live and work in LA. Nicole wants recognition and when her New York light became shadowed by Charlie’s, she retaliates by becoming emotionally distant from him. Just as the show they have been working on for years finally gets it’s shot at Broadway, she decides to go LA to shoot a pilot. Their child Henry, played by Azhy Robertson, goes to LA with his mom Nicole which Charlie agrees to not knowing this is the beginning of the end of their separation.
Nicole has meeting with attorneys, behind Charlie’s back even though they have agreed not to use attorneys. Laura Dern plays Nicole’s attorney Nora Fanshaw. A real man-eater, dressed for success, and ready to take down anyone who gets in the way by any means necessary. Then Nicole blind-sides Charlie with divorce papers at her mother’s house which leaves him scrambling to catch up–not only with the new status of their relationship which Nicole took upon herself to decide without him but also to figure out what to do next. A question he asks multiple times throughout the film. He meets with Jay Marotta, a shark attorney played by Ray Liotta, who Charlie decides is too aggressive and expensive. After traveling back and forth to New York to keep his theatre company going and his relationship with his son in tact, he is threatened by Nicole’s attorney if her doesn’t get his own attorney by the end of the week, they will file a no-contest divorce and he’ll lose everything. Thanks Nicole. He does find a nice attorney, Bert Spitz played by Alan Alda who does his best to keep things civil during the process; but who is quickly out-sharked by Nora Fanshaw. Charlie does what he feels cornered to do and goes back to hiring shark attorney Jay Marotta at the last minute. Thus ensues the legal argument and mastery of manipulating innocent remarks and gestures into sinister and negligent character flaws. An agreement is finally reached but only at the expense of a relationship which could’ve been saved so much earlier in the process. Except, for Nicole, there’s no drama or attention in that…
I liked watching Adam Driver navigate this complex character with complete clarity, the emotional range from stunned what do I do next to complete defeat to anger pushed to the brink to sadness pushed over the edge. He gives so much to Charlie living in each moment as it happens. I’m team Charlie here. Scarlett Johansson plays Nicole perfectly as the ‘look at me, look at me I have a voice, too’ whiny female. She played the part so well, she made me hate Nicole for destroying a family for the sake of saving her ego. All the crocodile tears won’t change my mind about her. I mean really? In this day and age, she couldn’t leave New York to film her pilot or whatever show she was working on while Charlie and her son stayed in New York holding down the theater fort? No, she had to stay in New York blaming Charlie for her choices until she was miserable enough, or the right project came along, to leave. All this time, she couldn’t speak up? Charlie was focused on his theatre company but he wasn’t a dictator. The truth: She didn’t want to read her description of Charlie at the opening of the movie not because she didn’t like what she wrote, she refused to read it because acknowledging Charlie would have forced her to come to terms with her own choices and her narcissistic reasons for wanting out of the marriage.
Julie Hagerty plays Nicole’s quirky mom who loves Charlie despite Nicole telling her she’s not allowed to love him anymore. Nicole’s ego should’ve had it’s own billed character…I didn’t cry like many of my fellow critics or people who have watched Marriage Story. I did get misty-eyed at the end when Charlie learns the truth about himself. It wasn’t a sad cry, though. It was more of an angry cry that Charlie and Henry were put through this entire mess for Nicole’s ego. Now playing on Netflix. Let me know what you think. Are you team Nicole or Team Charlie? Watch the trailer below: