Movie Review: “Marriage Story”
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 would not be so easy.
More recently, their marriage has been going through quite a rough patch. They have grown apart, and are unfortunately getting divorced. Nicole now wants to move to Los Angeles with their son, so that she can star in a new television series. However, 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, angry, and loving feelings toward one another, and they have very different visions of their lives after they separate, so their road to divorce will almost certainly be a rocky one.
The Pros & Cons
Nicole & Nora (-4pts)
Marriage vs. Divorce (+8pts)
Jay Marotta vs. Bert Spitz (+2pts)
The Ending (-3pts)
Pro: Charlie (+6pts)
Charlie was a very complex character. He accepts the reality of his divorce, but he loves Nicole and hates that their marriage has come to this. He wants a civil divorce, and very much wants to be in their sons life. They have grown apart, but Charlie loves Nicole, loves their son, and wants their lives to be as civil as possible going forward.
However, that all changes when Charlie is blindsided by Nicole’s very different plan for their son's future. Charlie takes it very personally, and it was clear that Charlie was not as okay with the divorce as he seemed. The whole thing destroys him emotionally, but he is desperate to be a part of his son’s life. The character's mindset is very complicated, and Adam Driver brought that to the screen brilliantly. He was a flawed, and compelling character, and it was so captivating to see his story play out on screen.
Con: Nicole & Nora (-4pts)
The filmmakers sort of made Nicole out to be the villain, and I think 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 understood everything she did. However, the filmmakers left a lot of her development off-screen which meant that her blindsiding of Charlie, and going after him in the way that she did, made her feel like the villain of Charlie’s story. Instead, developing this character better and showing her coming to the decisions that she came to would have instead made divorce the villain of Nicole and Charlie’s story, which I think is what the filmmakers were going for. 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 was ruthless, and I understand that divorce lawyers can be exactly that, but 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 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 do not think that did justice to the character.
Pro: Marriage vs. Divorce (+8pts)
Obviously, marriage and divorce are different because one is the end of the road for the other. However, the two have their similarities, and those similarities were what made this movie so compelling. It is unclear — to the viewer — exactly what made Charlie and Nicole’s marriage fall apart, although you will have your suspicions, but it is clear that they once loved each other immensely and that their marriage fell very hard. I have fortunately never experienced a fight anything like the fight in this movie, but their 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 exactly what to say to get under the other’s skin. It made the downfall of their relationship feel even more tragic, because you 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 also showed the complex love that remained after everything that they had been through. These two characters were incredibly hurt, but their time as husband and wife cannot be erased. It showed that divorce obviously cannot happen without marriage, and it showed the sense of pain and betrayal that is felt when a loving married couple comes to divorce. It was a tragic story — filled with pain, love, resentment, and compassion — but all of the emotion that was poured into these characters made their relationship feel real, and it made their experiences in this movie very compelling.
Con: Slow (-3pts)
This movie is definitely a slow burn, and I get why it needed to be. Keeping this movie slow helps let the viewer sit with the characters in their emotions. However, the side effect is that it makes 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 is 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 a bit (like for instance the two musical performances). It was a two hour and seventeen minute movie that should probably have been trimmed down to a lean, just under two hour, movie. It would still have been a slow-burn, but trimming it a bit would have helped prevent it from feeling unnecessarily drawn out, and would have made for a much more refined and impactful story.
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) plays a ruthless divorce lawyer who is too familiar with the tragic reality that the process of divorce brings out the worst versions of the people involved. Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) is a more compassionate divorce lawyer who believes in families, and aims for civility and understanding to try 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 way he goes, but I enjoyed the contrast between these two lawyers, as their very different styles showed how Charlie evolved throughout the movie.
Con: The Ending (-3pts)
The ending of this movie felt somewhat lacking. After all of the build up, the ending felt like it was missing impact and emotion. Charlie and Nicole had plenty of passionate arguments and conflicts, 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 defining, emotionally climactic moment to conclude divorce stories in real-life, but this movie was not real-life. This was a story that was missing a satisfying ending. I do not mean that it needed a "happy" ending, but I felt like 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 I thought they could have done a much better job of sticking the landing.
Grade: B- (81pts)
This movie was a slow-burn, there was 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 of 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 for a very compelling character. However, 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, 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 more refined, but there was a really compelling story here. It had well written characters in a tragic love story, and it was a story that I enjoyed watching.