When it was becoming clear that my sister’s marriage was falling apart, I remember having a heart-to-heart with her.
I said…. “I am so jealous of you! You get a second chance. You get to meet new people. You get to kiss new people. You get to fall in love again!”
A few years later, when my own first marriage was falling apart, I realized a hard lesson…I was more right than I could have even imagined. Divorce isn’t just great; it is life-affirmingly wonderful.
Yet I’m not urging you to try it yourself. I’ve known people who were broken and embittered by divorce. For some, it is a nightmare.
“Marriage Story” is an intimate, harrowing drama about a divorce that was way different than mine.
Best Actor Nominee Adam Driver stars as Charlie – an acclaimed New York theater director. Best Actress Nominee Scarlett Johansson plays his wife Nicole, the mother of Charlie’s pre-teen son and the frequent star of his off-Broadway plays.
They were a perfect family. And then they weren’t. Nicole was always supportive of Charlie’s art and career. Indeed, she spent most of her 20s nurturing it. But when Nicole is offered a TV pilot in Los Angeles, Charlie isn’t even happy for her. That’s the last straw.
Nicole and Charlie were planning on divorcing the easy way, by negotiating together and coming up with a fair, amicable agreement. “Marriage Story” goes from a drama to a horror film as soon as Nicole sets foot in LA divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw’s office. Laura Dern deserves to win Best Supporting Actress for her electric performance.
Divorce lawyers don’t have the best reputation. And rightly not. But writer/director Noah Baumbach doesn’t demonize Nora Fanshaw. She’s an eloquent, self-assured feminist. It is the entire Family Court system that is terrible. It seems to exist to torture and humiliate people while quickly bleeding them dry.
We watch Charlie’s life turn into an ordeal. He flies back and forth from New York to LA most every week. He’s trying to make time for his play and his family and he ends up short-changing both.
There’s a sad scene where Charlie goes all out to spend a special Halloween with his son but the kid is too tired to have fun because he just went out trick or treating with his mom. Charlie is trying his best but the situation is too messed up for him to ever make it right.
Noah Baumbach wanted to make “Marriage Story” even between the sexes but he can’t quite pull it off. Perhaps he is still bitter from his own divorce or perhaps he’s just a guy, but Baumbach can’t help but write Nicole as a bit of a villainess.
There is a scene where Charlie is forced to hire a lawyer in Los Angeles because Nicole has served him in California. Charlie goes from law office to law office. He slowly discovers that Nicole has schemed to make his life harder by having a consultation with all the good lawyers so now, by rule, they can’t represent him.
That said: “Marriage Story” is a splendidly written and effective drama. But I must admit, I didn’t relate to it at all. Where was all the good stuff? The new opportunities for adventure and self-discovery and self-improvement? I quit drugs and dated cool women and eventually met the love of my life when I got divorced. I had an amazing time.
I guess the secret is that divorce is only wonderful if you don’t hire lawyers and you don’t have a kid. Pity more people don’t take that lesson to heart.