Rated R. It's got a lot of language. That language happens to be in front of their kid. Also, if you are woozy at the sight of blood, maybe Marriage Story isn't for you. It's not a gory movie. I think I have to make that absolutely clear. But there is a scene that involves an unhealthy amount of blood. The story is going to gut emotionally more than anything content wise. People are absolutely horrid to one another and that's probably what's stopping most people from watching it. But it's great, so R rating in this case mostly means, "Good movie." R.
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
This is just my life for the next few weeks. Go to work. Make dinner. Put the kids to bed. Watch an Academy Award nominee. I'll try to get my Academy Award page updated when I get the chance. But for right now, I'm just all about knocking out as many entries in the Academy Awards category as I can. That's not the worst thing in the world. This is actually my favorite time of year, if I'm going to remove my martyr robe for a second. My wife gets into watching Academy Award nominees, so we just get to watch a bunch of good movies. Regardless, it is a lot. This year, while we didn't watch a ton of movies, so many movies decided to sweep categories, meaning I have a leg up over previous years. But those gosh darn shorts might be a while before they come out.
Noah Baumbach made me believe in the Netflix model. The funny thing is that I don't really like pre-Netflix Noah Baumbach. There's something a bit more human about Baumbach's movies since he went to Netflix. I'm talking about this and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), if I was beating around the bush too much. I used to think that Netflix movies were pretty disposable. While Roma got a lot of attention, I didn't resonate with me on a level that Baumbach's films did. But Marriage Story is something that is a contender for Best Picture. I mean, I am willing to bet that 1917 will probably get it and I'm very cool with that. But Marriage Story is a solid blend of an acting workshop and a truly emotional piece.
I didn't jump on board Joker because it just felt like a vehicle for Joaquin Phoenix to act the living daylights out of it. The movie without the scene chewing isn't much. But Marriage Story thrives on its vulnerability. It is all about knowing the uncomfortable elements of marriage. It's odd how this movie opened up discussions that I never thought I would be having with my wife. We're very happily married. (I'm not protesting. My wife and I are pretty great.) But the movie really resides in the uncomfortable elements that people don't like to talk about. At least, my wife and I don't. Divorce is an ugly word. I'm going to be dancing around an issue pretty hard. 1) This may sound overly cocky, but my wife and I aren't going to get a divorce. It's just not us. I know. That's incredibly naive to say because who we are now may not be the people we will be tomorrow or the decades after that. But we're both not wired for divorce. 2) We're Catholic, which makes divorce even more complicated.
But we understand that divorce is a real thing. The numbers of people who get divorced is mindblowing. I can't even wrap my head around it. The few people we know that get divorced confuses us. It's a whole different world and I'm never going to judge. I have to idea what that must be like. But Marriage Story kind of opens the book on that. With Marriage Story, it's all centered around career and happiness. My favorite element is how the movie starts and how the movie ends. Baumbach, with his misleading opening that talks about how much these people love each other is so heartfelt and so well-written, that the movie implants me with a sense of investment in the marriage in moment one. That hairpin turn when Nicole won't read the letter is so painful. But that's what the movie needed. It needed to be more about a divorce. The movie, wisely, isn't called Divorce Story. The movie is about the marriage. They aren't divorced from moment one. They are going through the divorce. And boy, the movie makes divorce look ugly.
These people are in love. It's probably the most heartbreaking thing about the movie. Okay, check that because having a kid named Henry is the most heartbreaking thing about the film. I don't think that everyone who gets divorced is still in love during and after the divorce. I couldn't give you numbers because I don't think that the formalized numbers exist. But watching these characters that are still in love being so vitriolic is painful to watch. The insane thing is that the movie starts off from a place of respect. It's the second that the lawyers get involved that the whole thing comes crashing down. Knowing that lawyers are going for the win and not for the happiness of the person is terrifying. Laura Dern's Nora Fanshaw comes across as this sympathetic lawyer who wants the best for her client. But there are moments where she is going for the personal win. Knowing that Nicole doesn't care about 55% custody is such a character moment for both of them. Nicole, despite the fact that both of the spouses are making toxic decisions, knows that Charlie is a good dad. It's incredibly telling about their relationship. Similarly, the duality of lawyers, as she embraces Ray Liotta's Jay Marotta, is such a weird thing. The movie isn't pro-divorce, by any means. But rather, it's pro-people talking. Divorce is something that simply exists in this world and a part of life. Do I wish it wasn't? Sure. But Baumbach is looking at how humans treat each other when things get challenging.
Is it bad that I wish that Charlie didn't have an affair? Yeah, I know. I instantly take the side of Charlie. I'm sorry that I'm part of the patriarchy, but I couldn't help but see him as a closer avatar to me. I think I know why Baumbach added the affair to the story, but I don't think I agree with it. Nicole leaving for L.A. makes her look like the one who is being selfish in the marriage. Charlie has all these good traits, mostly associated with him being a good father. He cooks and he cleans. He gets up for the kid and handles the tantrums. He's too good. But I think that there's enough weight with his inflexibility to make it a more real choice. My wife and I are often shocked when we find out that affairs are real. I have somehow relegated that threat to the world of stage and screen. It is bizarre to think that people we know are probably having affairs, but we're just ignorant of them somehow. But it makes Charlie always kind of the bad guy. The division of L.A. versus New York puts them on an even playing field. I suppose that we didn't want to victimize Charlie's ability to be a parent just because he's male, but it is a bit of an uncomfortable, almost Hollywoody way to make Charlie a bad guy.
Maybe this movie was made for me, a 36-year-old. My heart is naturally moved towards Henry, the kid in the movie. The movie doesn't make it about Henry's reactions to the massive change in his life. I know that he grew up in a performance household. He's probably somewhat used to the odd hours and the shifting locales. But Henry handles a lot of the movie like a champ. He's old enough to understand a lot of this. He's older than my kids, at least. But even without making Henry the touchstone of the film, I keep shifting my gaze from the bubbling hatred of these two characters to the vulnerability of Henry. He's very flat affect and I don't think that's a terrible thing. Kids don't telegraph everything that they are feeling. But that's where my heart really breaks. Yeah, Charlie and Nicole should be good together, despite Charlie's verbal diarrhea that states the opposite. But I really want Charlie to have a sense of normality.
I don't know what's the truth, really. I watch a movie like Marriage Story with the same attention that I would give to a National Geographic documentary. I can only comment on what I see and it's not necessarily good to base all my feelings off of a work of fiction. There are those, and I'm probably in this camp, who view divorce as rough on kids. I'm sure it is. A happy marriage is probably the best thing for a kid, but people can't always have that. But others argue that it is more toxic to have parents who are always fighting. Marriage Story doesn't really comment on that whole pickle. It still doesn't change the fact that my heart absolutely weeps for Henry for the entire film. But Henry doesn't even react like I want him to. He's like what real kids are like. He's in his own little world, almost incapable of empathy on a level that matters. He cares about his toys and the green stuff on food. That's the truth. Maybe if we get a Marriage Story: 2040, we might see how Henry dealt with the events of this film in his own little way.
I've liked Scarlet Johansson for a while. My wife wasn't on board the Scarlet train until fairly recently. I honestly think that she used to hate her in things. She is great in this movie. That's not surprising to me because I tend to like her in everything. But the performance that surprises me is Adam Driver. I know that Adam Driver does some indie stuff. My wife told me that he was on Girls and now I totally can see that. But he's probably an actor that I pigeonholed to be a Star Wars veteran, akin to Mark Hamill. Again, Mark Hamill is a talented guy who is starting to have a bit of a renaissance free from his voiceover work. But Adam Driver might be a serious actor who is going to get past the Star Wars stuff and become something that is more like Harrison Ford. He's so good in this. Yeah, he does heavy emotion really well. But he also does the small beats phenomenally. As an acting exercise, Marriage Story works for both protagonists really well.
I completely dug this movie. Is it depressing? Heck yeah, but that doesn't mean that I didn't smile throughout. It's pretty great. Ignore the runtime. It'll fly by.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.