Marriage Story

Marriage Story (2019)
dir. Noah Baumbach
R / 2h 17m / Drama, Comedy, Romance
Gotham Award Winner (2019) – Audience Award, Noah Baumbach
Critic’s Choice Award Winner (2020) – Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Laura Dern
Golden Globe Winner (2020) – Best Performance by an actress in a Supporting Role, Laura Dern
Academy Award Winner (2020) – Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Laura Dern

I fell in love with him two seconds after I saw him. And I’ll never stop loving him, even though it doesn’t make sense anymore.

This is an important film. I think It shows the nastiness of divorce, the resiliency of relationships, how both mothers and fathers have deep seated societal standards, and obviously, the beauty and talent of Laura Dern as noted by the awards she was showered with for this role. It’s not that Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver don’t deliver, they absolutely do, but Laura Dern extra delivers. Anyway, the first time I watched this, I felt bad for Charlie. However, I am two years into motherhood and there’s no goddamn way I can feel bad for Charlie now.

Plot: Director/Actor couple Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) achieve relative fame working together on theatre productions, but all is not well in their world. Nicole lands a TV pilot in LA, her hometown, leaves Charlie in New York, and takes their son to embark on something new for herself. What ensues is a dialogue heavy, emotional view into a high stakes separation where civility turns rancid, and children are pawned, but growth is met.

First off, I don’t know if it’s even fair for me to write this as a victim of the double burden both physically and emotionally, myself. It is clear that I can relate heavily to Nicole in her journey of finding herself after being an extension of Charlie for so long and after giving everything to be an incredible mother to their son, Henry. It’s hard to understand the plight and frustration of a woman that loses herself to her family until you’ve been that woman – and honestly it can be easy to choose sides on this one. There is a family, a great father that is professionally busy, an attentive and loving mother who is employed by him, and then there… isn’t. The loving and attentive mother flies the kid away to the other end of the country, the great but professionally busy father now has to find a way to run his business and see his child across the country or he will lose custody in the settlement. So what does Charlie do? He spends two weeks in LA and two weeks in NY every month, finds lawyers, fights for custody, gets screwed on the money end repeatedly. While Nicole is living with her mother, seeing her family again, getting work, looking happy, and moving on.

But of course, she is paying Perfect Lawyer Nora (Dern) an arm and a leg.

At first glance or first watch, it definitely looks like Nicole is the baddie. All of this for what? Some sense of self? Well… yeah. Sense of self means everything when you have none and you’re drowning. Is moving across the country and forcing your soon to be ex husband to lose more than half a million dollars fighting for his son and almost lose his broadway production? Well… also yeah.

There’s a lot of things everyone would say they’d do differently in their own personal hell, so it’s hard to judge someone else’s with your whole chest. So sit down and enjoy the ride.

As I said before, dialogue heavy. Nice scenery mixed in there but definitely not a focal point. Acting is superb from all angles – definitely those I have mentioned, and to add, the mother and the sister are good comedic relief. Oh, so is the court appointed interview lady – the one that doesn’t move her mouth when she talks – props to that lady.

There are a couple of memorable relationship dynamics that I liked to see, and one scene that broke my heart. I loved Nicole’s mother and her insistence on still being friends with Charlie. She was there for him behind Nicole’s back, but she also was there for her daughter. This raises the question of blood loyalty while still curating your own personal relationships as an adult that can absolutely make that decision for themselves. Sometimes you want to hate the mother, sometimes you like her, sometimes you wish she’d just choose her daughter’s side, but you also have to give grace to this woman, who, even though her husband is gay and dead, still chooses to wake up happy every day. Her grandchild is a part of this man, and they have a wonderful relationship. Sometimes you even feel angry at Nicole for wanting to stifle it. Another one I really liked was at the end, when everything seemed to be moving forward and Nicole and Charlie were able to be under the same roof and share plans for their son. I loved seeing that. When he entered the home, I am sure he felt like an outsider at that point, but they went the extra mile to include him and even offer some flexibility that was withheld before. It was so refreshing to see, especially after the grueling he said and she said back and forth in the previous 2 hours.

If you’ve seen this film I am sure you know which scene I am about to bring up regarding my little broken heart. The apartment fight – I want to share some direct quotes.

Nicole: You should’ve considered my happiness too. 
Charlie: Come on! You *were* happy. You’ve just decided that you weren’t now.

Charlie: You want to present yourself as a victim because it’s a good legal strategy. Fine, but you and I both know you chose this life! You wanted it until you didn’t.

I absolutely hated this. it gutted me. Firstly because, a choice you make as a young adult doesn’t have to the choice you spend your life with. Secondly because him saying she chose that life, chose the neglect, the missed opportunities, the loss of self to him and his career, infuriates me to no end. It’s the inability to take responsibility for his role in her unhappiness, like he just expected her to be happy with any of his decisions or where his work took him.

Charlie: You’ll never be happy, in LA or anywhere. You’ll think you found some better opposite guy than me, and in a few years you’ll rebel against him, because you need to have your voice, but you don’t want a voice. You just want to fucking complain about not having a voice!

Okay, fuck you Charlie for this one. Seriously. Charlie is one tall dark and handsome ASSHOLE.

Nicole: You’re being so much like your father. 
Charlie: Do not compare me to my father! You’re exactly like your mother. Everything you were complaining about her, you’re doing.
Nicole: First of all, I love my mother. She was a wonderful mother. Secondly, how dare you compare my mothering to my mother! I may be like my father, but I am not like my mother! 
Charlie: You are! And you’re like my father! You’re also like my mother! You’re all the bad things about all of these people! But mostly your mother.

“You are all the bad things about all of these people” wrapped up into one. Maybe it’s the enneagram 1 in me, but I hate hearing about my flaws. And it was truly like I was there, being told that I am all of the bad things from these people. Maybe it’s just my insecurity, maybe it’s just where I am in my own journey, but it crushed me.

Nicole: You’re such a dick! 
Charlie: Everyday I wake up and I hope you’re dead! Dead, like, If I could guarantee Henry would be OK, I’d hope you get an illness and then get hit by a car and die! 

[He begins weeping, and then falls to his knees]
Charlie: [Through tears] I’m sorry. 
Nicole: [Comforting him] Me too.

Nu-uh. Nope. He proceeds to punch the wall after that one. And then…. he cries and she comforts him?!?!?!?!?! Woman, what are you doing??? GET OUT OF THERE. You do not owe him anything in the form of a pat on the back or a consolation for his violent outburst. This scene as a whole made me cry, but the last part, about him saying he wakes up and wishes she’d die, got to me. I don’t use the word triggered a lot, but I feel that it triggered me. Seeing the hurt in her eyes. Seeing this marriage hang on by its last thread. It hits hard. It also hits hard to see a partnership revert to a comfort level even after so much pain. Like muscle memory, comforting a person that you have loved. How can you get beyond that? How do you grow out of loving someone? Do we all not deserve love and comfort from someone that knows us?

But of course, Nicole was just being an incredible and attentive and loving mother.

Which brings me to the last part of this absurdly long analysis: societal expectations on men and women. I have never been divorced so I don’t know first hand, but there was more than one time where the beautiful gorgeous Laura Dern as Perfect Lawyer Nora showed up for Nicole and either got her something because she’s a mother, or asked for something in the divorce because she’s a woman, and the same for Charlie’s lawyers – saying he had to this or do that or pay this or pay that because courts favor mothers. And, that is very true. If you are able to watch this without picking sides and getting wrapped up in the emotion, you can take away how difficult it is to divorce the parent of your child in a fair and equal way.

But, then again, fuck the patriarchy. Men ain’t shit. Here is my favorite quote from a line up of many many many many films:

Nora Fanshaw: [People won’t accept an imperfect mother.] We can accept an imperfect dad. Let’s face it, the idea of a good father was only invented like 30 years ago. Before that, fathers were expected to be silent and absent and unreliable and selfish, and can all say we want them to be different. But on some basic level, we accept them. We love them for their fallibilities, but people absolutely don’t accept those same failings in mothers. We don’t accept it structurally and we don’t accept it spiritually. Because the basis of our Judeo-Christian whatever is Mary, Mother of Jesus, and she’s perfect. She’s a virgin who gives birth, unwaveringly supports her child and holds his dead body when he’s gone. And the dad isn’t there. He didn’t even do the fucking. God is in heaven. God is the father and God didn’t show up. So, you have to be perfect, and Charlie can be a fuck up and it doesn’t matter.

You will always be held to a different, higher standard. And it’s fucked up, but that’s the way it is.

This movie has a lot to offer for the people that seek it out. You could be the scorned father that lost everything, the fleeting mother, or even the child caught up in it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll probably feel empty for a bit afterward, but that’s good storytelling. Even if you’re none of these and you have a perfect marriage and partnership… we all hate you. You can go home now.


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