Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: "Marriage Story" is a piercing look at a difficult subject

Marriage Story Review
"Marriage Story" begins with a girl named Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and a boy named Charlie (Adam Driver). They have been married for an undisclosed amount of time. We get a quick shot of both of them in voice over, taking turns complimenting each other. Spilling themselves on the reasons for which they love each other. They've at least been together long enough to have a child, a bright boy named Henry (Azhy Robertson). Everything seems very squeaky clean.

Of course, not all is what it seems. The words we just heard in voiceover, where the words each person wrote about the other during a marriage therapy session. Nicole and Charlie are on the verge of calling it quits. The movie charts as they fall slower and slower into their divorce. How they split time with their kid, how that gets harder and harder to do since Nicole is originally from Los Angeles and Charlie feels the need to stay in New York City for work. If you think the movie is just a growing fall into a high stress situation, that isn't entirely true. The true movie's fold shows its hand in about the middle of the movie.

Nicole and Charlie both agree to go through the divorce without lawyers. But eventually Nicole reluctantly gets a lawyer, in the form of Laura Dern. Dern is magnificent at these roles, the sleazy snake whose wearing an angel suit. I may not have thought much of "Big Little Lies" on HBO, but Dern plays a similar role here that she did on that show. She slowly but surely begins to put thoughts in her head about Charlie, whether they are entirely true or not doesn't matter. This is about getting what she can for Nicole at the end of the relationship. When Charlie learns that Nicole got herself a lawyer, he lawyers up too, in the form of Ray Liotta. Much like Dern's character, Liotta is slimy trash who overpricing Charlie to basically turn Nicole into a lawyer. Using their child as a pawn.

The movie isn't so much about a marriage falling apart as it is about just how terrible the divorce industry is. I can't even believe we have term for this, because it almost feels like we shouldn't. The way divorce lawyers are depicted here, it feels like they are designed to help stretch and deepen a wound already left from divorce and when Dern and Liotta are sparring off on Nicole and Charlie's behalf, its some of the most harrowing material in the whole movie. Dern and Liotta, legendary in the business right now, are both solid here. What makes the scene hurt worse is how corrigible they are around each other before the court hearing, as if this is business as usual.

I don't want this to sound like Dern and Liotta outshine everybody here. Because that simply isn't the case. Its also not a movie with an ending you think it will have. If you are expecting this movie have a moment where fate steps in and brings everybody back together, think again. After the court hearing, Driver and Johansson have a sparring off of their own and it becomes quite clear that whatever love they shared as a couple is gone, the relationship has become toxic. Did the lawyers make things worse? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they shook something loose that had to be said by both parties. But it becomes clear that perhaps the best thing Nicole and Charlie can do at this point is split up. The movie is superbly acted by both Driver and Johansson. Johansson in particular is having a wonderful year. She had some of the most meaningful material in "Avengers: Endgame" and her role in "Jojo Rabbit" was pure bliss. Driver is also equally amazing. I remain dumbfounded that both actors can shake loose a laugh in movie about a situation that isn't funny at all, but there are little pieces of humor in the movie, like pressure valves that release little pockets of tension throughout the film. They never seem out of place.

Azhy is bright young actor in his own right too. If he chooses to keep acting, he's got a big future ahead of him.

I have read before by many children of divorce who have admitted that if their parents stayed together, it would have ruined them better than if they didn't. Sometimes some relationships self-destruct. We like to tell ourselves that marriage is forever but sometimes, its just not meant to be and that sounds messy but its a truth for some. "Marriage Story" admits that the road is long and the road is hard, but you can get through it together if you try and perhaps your life will be healthier on the other side once you get there. I've never seen such an optimistic movie about divorce before. But its a stark reminder that life is hard, but its also short, and what you choose to do with this hard, short life makes all the difference.

FINAL GRADE: A

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