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Movie Review: “Marriage Story”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Netflix Release: 12/6/2019

Netflix Release: 12/6/2019

Synopsis

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a brilliant stage director, hoping to make it big in New York City. Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is a young actress known for her role in a raunchy comedy, but she has moved to New York to try her hand at stage acting. The two met, fell in love, and got married. Unfortunately, their happy ending did not exactly go as planned.

Their marriage has been going through quite a rough patch. They have grown apart, and they are unfortunately getting divorced. Nicole wants to move to Los Angeles with their son, so that she can star in a new television series, but Charlie is entirely invested in his dream of bringing one of his plays to Broadway. The two have very complicated feelings for one another, as any couple going through a divorce would. They have very passionate, very angry, and very loving feelings toward one another, and they have very different visions of their lives going forward, so their road to divorce will almost certainly be a rocky one.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Charlie (+6pts)

Nicole & Nora (-4pts)

Marriage vs. Divorce (+8pts)

Slow (-3pts)

Jay Marotta vs. Bert Spitz (+2pts)

The Ending (-3pts)

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Pro: Charlie (+6pts)

Charlie was a very complex character. He accepted the reality of his divorce, but he loved Nicole and he hated that their marriage had come to this. He wanted a civil divorce, and he very much wanted to be in their son’s life. They had grown apart, but Charlie loved Nicole, he loved their son, and he wanted their lives to be as civil as possible going forward.

However, that all changed when Charlie was blindsided by Nicole’s very different plan for their son's future. Charlie took it very personally, and it was clear that Charlie was not as okay with the divorce as he seemed. The whole thing destroyed him emotionally, but he was desperate to be a part of his son’s life. The character's mindset was very complicated—becoming even more so once the audience discovers what he did that steered his marriage into divorce—and Adam Driver brought that all to the screen brilliantly. He was a flawed, and compelling character, and it was I was so captivated to see Adam Driver bringing Charlie’s story to the screen.

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Con: Nicole & Nora (-4pts)

The filmmakers sort of made Nicole out to be the villain, and I thought it was a mistake to do so. Like Charlie, Nicole’s feelings toward Charlie and their divorce were very complicated. Her actions showed that she still loved Charlie, but there was a lot of resentment there as well. On one hand, I understood where the character was coming from and I understood everything she did. However, the filmmakers left a lot of her development off-screen which meant that her blindsiding Charlie, and her going after him the way that she did made her feel like the villain of Charlie’s story. Developing this character better and showing her coming to the decisions that she came to would have made divorce the villain of Nicole and Charlie’s story, which I think was what the filmmakers were going for here, instead of Nicole being the villain of Charlie’s story, which was what we got. The character of Nora (Laura Dern) certainly did not help this issue.

This movie would have been a lot better if Nicole was seen as an equally complicated victim of divorce. Nora, however, was Nicole’s ruthless divorce lawyer, and while I understand that divorce lawyers can be exactly that, Nora’s ruthlessness only worsened the vilification of Nicole. All of this would have been fine if we got to see more of Nicole being conflicted with everything playing out the way that it did, but that did not happen. This movie was at its best when it was focused on the complexity of Nicole and Charlie’s feelings toward one another. They did this well with Charlie, showing a compelling balance between his love and resentment. However, with Nicole, the filmmakers seemed to leave a lot of the love off-screen, which meant that we were mostly just left with her resentment, and I did not think that did the character any justice.

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Pro: Marriage vs. Divorce (+8pts)

Obviously, marriage and divorce are different things, with one being the end of the road for the other. Strangely, the two concepts still have their similarities, and those similarities were what made this movie so compelling. It was unclear—to the viewer—exactly what made Charlie and Nicole’s marriage fall apart, but it was clear that they once loved each other immensely and that their marriage had fallen very far and very hard. I have fortunately never experienced a fight anything like the big fight in this movie, but the fight felt raw, it felt passionate, and it felt like it was fought by two people who knew each other incredibly well.

Both characters knew what buttons to press, and they knew exactly what to say to get under the other’s skin. It made the downfall of their relationship feel even more tragic, because I could feel the love that was once there. I just really liked how the filmmakers depicted divorce in this movie. They showed the characters’ pain and resentment, but they also showed the complex love that still remained, even after everything they had been through together. These two characters were incredibly hurt by each other, but their time as husband and wife could be erased. Divorce obviously cannot happen without marriage, and these characters’ story embodied that in a big way, showing the deep, personal pain and betrayal that people feel when their marriage comes to a end. It was a tragic story—filled with pain and love, as well as resentment and compassion—but all of the emotion that was poured into these characters made their relationship feel real, and it made their stories compelling in the most tragic way.

movie-review-marriage-story

Con: Slow (-3pts)

This movie was definitely a slow burn, and I get why it needed to be. Keeping this movie slow helped let the viewer sit with the characters in their emotions. That being said, the side effect was that it made the movie feel long and relatively uneventful. I would not go as far as to say that it was "boring" or that it needed to be action-packed, because that was not what this movie was, but the movie was definitely more drawn out than it needed to be. There was room to trim this movie down by about 20 or 30 minutes, which would have made it a more refined and digestible slow-burn.

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Pro: Jay Marotta vs. Bert Spitz (+2pts)

These were both minor characters, but they came together to play an important role in Charlie's story. Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta) played a ruthless divorce lawyer who was all too familiar with the tragic reality that the process of divorce brings out the worst versions of the people involved. Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) was a more compassionate divorce lawyer who believed in families. He aimed for civility and tried to utilize understanding to resolve divorce cases as peacefully as possible. Charlie basically needed to choose between these two lawyers. They both effectively showed the effect that divorce can have on even the most civil couples. I do not want to say which one he chose, but I enjoyed the contrast between these two lawyers, as their very different styles showed how Charlie evolved throughout the movie.

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Con: The Ending (-3pts)

The ending felt somewhat lacking. After all of the build up, the ending felt like it was missing the impact and emotion that everything else felt like it was building toward. Charlie and Nicole had plenty of passionate arguments and conflicts throughout the movie, then the ending of the movie came and it all just sort of went away and the movie ended. I understand that there may not always be a definitive, emotionally climactic moment to conclude divorce stories in real-life, but this was not real-life. This was a movie and a story that was missing a satisfying ending. I do not mean that it needed a "happy" ending or anything specific, but it was missing the type of impactful ending that would have made watching the whole story feel worth it. The filmmakers did a pretty good job of setting up this complex and emotional relationship, but they could have done a much better job sticking the landing.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-marriage-story

Grade: B- (81pts)

This movie was a slow-burn, there is no doubt about that. It had a couple of well-developed characters going through a tragic divorce. The complexity of these two characters' feelings toward one another was the best thing going for this movie. Through Charlie and Nicole's story, the filmmakers took a hard look at the very passionate and complex nature of divorce. However, while they did a fantastic job bringing Charlie's complexity to the screen, I thought they could have handled Nicole's side of the story better.

Charlie's feelings toward Nicole were equal parts love and resentment, and it made Charlie a very compelling character. Unfortunately, it felt like the filmmakers kept most of Nicole's love toward Charlie off-screen, which meant that we saw mostly just resentment from her. This made the character seem like the villain, which felt like a disservice to the character and the story, as she could have been just as compelling as Charlie, if not more so. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this movie. It was certainly a slow-burn that could have been quite a bit shorter, but there was a compelling story here. It had well written characters in a tragic love story, and it was a story that I enjoyed watching.

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