Marriage Story: A Film Review

downloadI, of course, had to watch this movie since Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are in it. I love both of their acting.
Netflix tagline for the film: Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Noah Baunbach directs this incisive and compassionate look at a marriage coming apart and a family staying together.
I’ll admit I’ve not seen anything (that I know of) directed by Noah Baunbach so I don’t have much to say regarding his creative direction. This will be a first for me, so let’s dive into it.
Note: I’m viewing the film while writing up the initial review for a ‘live-action’ style review. I’ll provide a summarized review at the end. 
A good marriage is about balancing the forces between wife and marriage. Where one is weak, the other gives that strength. This is told by Charlie’s monologue at the beginning. Nicole’s quirks are real, and something I can connect with though I have to wonder is that just what Charlie sees or is that really Nicole? Is he foreshadowing that the perfect wife and mother was not so perfect at all? Or is he going to tell me that all of it was too much for him to live up to? I wonder? She gave up stardom  to do theater with her husband. Does she regret that? That ‘what if?’ and ‘the life I could have had’ concept?
Nicole’s monologue begins…She makes him sound like he’s the stay at home father, though I know that’s not true since he’s a filmmaker. She makes him out to be a man with a plan, got things under control, and organized to boot. She also shares that  his strength and ability to stay calm and take control balances her inability. “Charlie takes all of my moods steadily and doesn’t give in to them.” Um…can a man be any more perfect? Again…that perfectionism going hard in the movie.
So they’ve both stated that the other is ‘very competitive.’ This HAS to lead to something, right? Two competitive spirits are going to eventually be at odds. So I’m getting that she’s definitely not perfect but he is understandable to her quirks and flaws. I get the sense that Nicole grew up around money maybe, or at least hung around those with money (movie stars and such). She’s not one to complain when it comes to her child. Oh! Wallace Shawn is in this film. The scene with Charlie and the monopoly game: It does cause me to wonder if anger issues or leading to losing patience maybe is a going to be a problem in the film. Or maybe narcissism. We shall see. Nicole makes a statement about something he does being ‘ almost annoying if it wasn’t so nice’. I feel like many of the things she’s stated about Charlie are things people would find annoying with/about. That’s just me though.
As a counselor, my thinking on him being a a filmmaker and her being in the films, there’s a balance/control issue. I wonder how she takes criticism or direction from him. Does she secretly hold it against him? Did this possible lack of balance in the relationship always exist?
Now things get a bit interesting. Everything that Charlie and Nicole have been saying is now on a sheet of paper and I’m wondering if they are in couples counseling or something. Aha! Mediation of separation and possibly divorce. Boy, is she furious! I’m intrigued and want to know why? She storms out of that room and builds the suspense of the movie.
New scene…she’s performing on stage and he’s in the audience taking notes. When someone asks, ‘Do you think they’ll ever get back together’ and someone responds, ‘No, I think this time it’s really over’ it makes me believe they’ve been having issues for a while now.
Something’s happened. Why did they both get up and leave? And on the same train. Is their son okay? He’d have to be because they would’ve taken a cab or something faster. Nope. He’s okay. Weird scene. Confusing. She still must care because she’s asking Charlie for his opinion on her new pilot TV show. He’s giving her his critique. Short, sweet, simple. No fuss. Aww. When she leaves the room, she starts crying. What is going on with this family? My heart is breaking for her, but I don’t even know the cause of the separation or whatever it is.
Next scene…grandmother, mom, and son…are away from dad. Grandma sets down ground rules. I just love with people tell you how they managed to survive and you should too. It’s certain, they are getting a divorce. Her on the stage of her pilot TV show is kinda boring and I don’t know what the purpose of it was. So now she’s interested in directing? But of course that balance of power I spoke of earlier prevented that from happening. Charlie had to be in control. Sounds like she felt like there was something lacking in her life, possibly. She wanted more.
Nora, the attorney, (Laura Dern). I don’t know if I’ve ever really liked her characters. Except for her Jurassic Park character. I didn’t even care for her in Big Little Lies. I immediately feel like she’s snooty and a know it all in this scene. Maybe that’s just her being a lawyer. HAHA! (Kidding all you legal peoples!) And Nicole breaks down again. What is going on with this woman? Was she neglected? Abused? Unloved? WTH??
Maybe it’s just my personal opinion of things being a counselor, but I just don’t like to listen from someone who says, “I know how it feels?” B! No you don’t. You don’t know a think about how I feel because you are not me! When someone says I know how it feels, it makes me want to run far away because they are getting ready to give you advice based on THEIR personal experience.
FINALLY. THE scene where I get to know what the hell is going on! I’m on the edge of my seat! I just love hearing life stories. I want to hear where it all started and hear from my clients where things went wrong in their opinion. So I really buckled into my chair and listened to her story. She said “I just went along with his life and…” See, what about your life, girly? So let me get this straight. The bigger he became, the smaller she became? And that wasn’t okay for her. Another AHA statement. ” I realized, I didn’t ever come alive for myself.” She was ‘deadish’ before he came and such, she was living life through him. That’s not so good, hun. No bueno. And from her POV, it sounds like he didn’t act like he cared about her opinions, her wants and needs. He just took control. BUT…in her note, that she never shared, she said that she could rely on him to take control when she couldn’t. (paraphrased) It sounds like she could possibly be resenting the qualities she initially appreciated in and from him.
Here we have another instance of the woman who is a wife and mother and feels like they don’t have their own identity separate from family life. It’s all too common, that loss of identity or worse, never having had an identity. It appears  she didn’t have a sense of her true self before she met him and when she did meet him, she lived through his identity. And ultimately, when that happens, there is going to come a time when you begin to recognize the fact that you don’t know who you are.
And then you have the man who has absolutely no clue about the internal crisis going on in the woman. She’s changing as the marriage continues and sometimes, one person stays the same while the other is evolving into someone else…someone stronger sometimes. Someone who begins to learn who they are and what it is going to take for themselves to feel complete. And unfortunately, too often, this is when the two part people because that’s not what the other party signed up for, was never one of their goals, and it’s just so hard on both parties.
Okay, this family plays Monopoly a lot! (symbol of control, money, greed?)
(Oh! It’s Merritt Wever. I loved her in Nurse Jackie!)

Dude. The pie was just a pie. LOL That scene was funny to me for some reason.
When she called his name as he was about to leave, he turned around with so much hope in his eyes. My heart cried for him a bit there.
I have never had to deal with lawyers in family court personally. This show, and many others, make lawyers look like brutal! Wow. Take them for everything style. And Charlie and Nicole never wanted any of that initially and I don’t think they want it at this point in the film either. I get the feeling that this case is going to turn into a brutal nightmare for the entire family if they can’t somehow regain control over their family unit/life and decide not to let the lawyers have a field day with their lives. Wow.
The lawyer said, “Before this is over, you’re going to hate us just because of what we represent in your life.” Couldn’t have said it better, and it sounds totally legit and real.
Well, Charlie saw what I was saying about taking control. Let’s see if Nicole finds her way out of that darkness and not do any more permanent damage to their sanity or their son’s life!
I can feel the stress in Charlie. I watched an entire scene and I was holding my breath through it all. The frustration he’s feeling as he’s being pressured by Nicole’s lawyer. I have a feeling his indiscretions are going to make things much much worse for him.
(Alan Alda! A classic. Love when those classic actors pop in on films! Now I want to binge on M*A*S*H!!!!) And what do you know…he’s a lawyer who gives straight up real solid to goodness advice that shows humanities at its best! Okay, wait a minute. Back up here. Why does it sound like Allen’s being a little condescending? I don’t like the milk you’re pouring into my cereal right now, Allen! Maybe he’s not. It could just be my cynicism.

Wow…that parents talking over Halloween scene was brutal. Nicole is growing more and more fierce and it’s not coming off pretty at all. I mean, I get that she feels Charlie neglected her but I’m not fully understanding where all this meanness is coming from. The character development hasn’t quite justified Nicole’s growing dismissal and animosity towards Charlie so when she pops up on the screen and acts like this, I don’t know why. I mean, I guess I can assume Nora, the lawyer might possibly be the one forcing these emotions to come out. I get that these emotions were probably already deep inside Nicole, but I just haven’t seen enough character development to connect the pieces.
I feel as if I’m getting more of the story line from Charlie’s point of view where I’m currently at in the film. It seems unbalanced as in the beginning it felt equal sides from both characters were being portrayed through the story. Not so much now.
Charlie’s costume as the Invisible man is quite fitting as he is feeling invisible right now. Quite a flip since Nicole was feeling like that early on.
“I read your emails!” (Nicole) ‘You slept with her’ (paraphrased for language sake) Um…dude, the first words out of your mouth should NOT be “How did you read my emails?” It should be a whole lot of groveling and apologizing and everything in between. That is, if you actually love her. IMHO
That was truly such an odd and embarrassing scene with the couple and their lawyers. Nora is just way out there…so fake! And I didn’t quite care much for Alan Alda’s character either, though perhaps both lawyers were just trying to bring a little bit of normal into the chaos of divorce talk.
So, nice lawyer is out now. Charlie is pissed and he fronts the money for the big time lawyer and this court hearing is getting down right dirty. Charlie didn’t want this. He begged Nicole not to do this but now here it is. And whoa….is it ugly. They better be careful or they are both going to lose their son!
Now she wants to talk! Really? SMH (
People, when they are hurting so much, can say the most horrible things to another person. And most of what they are saying is so, so very much not what they honestly mean. It’s just than the anger boiling inside them, they are hurting so much, they are not able to regulate their emotions and have appropriate cognitive functioning. And the scene between Charlie and Nicole, is exactly that.
During Nicole’s mock interview, she’s asked ‘what are your strengths?” It made me think, I bet you wish you’d have listened to Charlie’s letter about all her strengths. Which made me wonder if those two letters are going to come back into play sometime before the end of the film. If I was writing this story, I’d probably utilize those letters. LOL
Let me be honest here. I totally fast forwarded through Charlie singing. Sorry, not sorry.
Major time confusion. After he sings, the next scene is him going to Nicole’s and her mom’s place. I am pretty sure some time has passed as it appears Nicole is dating someone, I think. But I’ve not been given any inkling as to just how much time has passed. Okay. It’s Halloween again, so at least a year.
Well, look at that. A letter comes out from the shadows. (I knew it would!)
It just ends? Like that? Tying a shoe? I mean, okay, I get it sort of. They honestly care about each other, probably love each other. And there’s different kinds of love. What is sometimes one kind of love, between a husband and a wife, can mutate into a different kind of love, where you want them to be happy, healthy, and absolutely care about them in all ways…except for the one way that is needed to sustain a marriage. I’m glad that they can remain civil, friendly towards each other. It’s just so unfortunate that their son was put through all that. Yes, both Charlie and Nicole are changed people. Neither are who they were when they got married, or even when they got divorced. It’s just, they are both fully grown and their brain is capable of working through and pulling themselves up out of the messiness that was and they can move on. Their son, however, well, they will never, ever get to see the kind of child he could have grown into had he not experienced the trauma of their divorce. Even if he grows up to be healthy, successful, and loved by both parents…he was forever changed and nobody ever will know just what that change altered inside his growing mind, emotionally and mentally.

Summary:
For the most part, I believe this film gave a pretty decent portrayal of a family in the midst of divorce. The anguish and suffering each side experienced was vividly expounded upon. The brutal ugliness that comes out of them during their very lowest points and then the simple gesture of briefly putting aside all those strong emotions to just be in the moment and recognize the other’s pain. Nicole was very good at that. I can’t say how true to form the lawyers were portrayed in the film. I kind of felt like doing a fist bump in the air when Charlie came out with the big time lawyer dude because damn it, he was going to at least show his son that he was fighting for him to stay in his life. I wasn’t at all expecting a happily ever after ending. I don’t think in their story, there could have been a happy ending. Both Charlie and Nicole cared about the other and yet, it just wasn’t enough to bring them back together. I particularly feel that it all stemmed from Nicole’s identity issues. If she had been more fulfilled with her life in general before meeting him, they might have had a chance.
It calls to mind how a relationship with a survivor of abuse or some other traumatic experience is changed when that survivor faces their experiences and is able to come out on the other side and build themselves back up. If they are already married when that building up process begins, often the relationship struggles because that survivor is mentally and emotionally a different person. Or like when one partner goes through college and expands their intelligence and critical thinking skills. The other partner sometimes feels left behind, less significant, and not on equal ground. That relationship often finds the end of the road as well.

For Nicole, she finally grew into herself. Or at least recognized that she wanted more, needed more. And unfortunately, what would lead her towards health and well-being emotionally and mentally, was also shutting the door of her marriage.

The movie may be slow-going for some viewers but it is a character driven story and to be expected. Was the buildup to the finality of everything worth it? Ehh, shrugs. I enjoy dissecting human behaviors, watching cause and effect, and the psychology behind it all.

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