Charlie and Nicole Barber are in their divorce lawyer’s office; both of them holding a piece of paper with scribblings about their significant other. The words are sweet, loving, and embody each of their personalities in the way the other sees them. Neither of them will read their thoughts in that single moment because of the pain it would cause them.
Yes, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are getting a divorce.
Noah Baumbach, known for such lauded films as The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, has brought yet another film inspired by his own life to audiences; this time focusing not on the burgeoning romance between two people, but the trauma and eventual divorce of them instead. Awards pundits have proclaimed that both leads deserve kudos for their performances, and as was just announced this week at the Gotham Awards (Driver won Best Actor), such awards are starting to come.
But while Marriage Story is well-written, punctuated by stellar performances and Directed by indie darling Baumbach, I found that I spent most of my time while watching the movie sweating through the blanket I had wrapped around my body, shaking with the memories of my own childhood.
Take Nicole (Johansson) and her decision in the film to move away from her husband (Driver) from New York to Los Angeles so she can pursue an opportunity headlining her own TV series, taking her son along for the ride. Heartless, right? Putting your kid through a situation where he has to choose between his own parents? And really, not even giving your kid an opportunity to make the decision himself because let’s be honest, he’s just way too young to make that kind of decision anyway. And even if he was old enough or mature enough to make that kind of a decision, there’s still mountains of evidence that such a decision could end up being the catalyst for years of therapy just to try and figure out where the train went off the tracks. And, by the way, even if Nicole’s decision was based on some big opportunity to star in a TV show, the thing she’s moving for really could be as small as, oh I don’t know, wanting to live somewhere where the weather is nicer than Long Island, like oh I don’t know, Colorado. But let’s be honest, Colorado has some pretty bad inclement weather itself, so I’m not buying that explanation for the move even if you’ve rehearsed the speech long enough in the bathroom mirror to convince a 10 year old kid that the reason is the reason. All I’m saying is, stripping your son of his direct relationship with his father, without much explanation, and without much logic, doesn’t do anyone any good in that situation.
There was a particularly painful moment in A Marriage Story when Charlie and his son must welcome a court-appointed family counseling worker into their dank apartment so she can evaluate what kind of environment Charlie is providing for his son. The goal here is to decide on what percentage of the custody Charlie will get, and the life he’s providing for his son is tantamount to making that decision. In the midst of this meeting, Charlie has prepared dinner, going out of his way to make it super healthy and vegetable focused. All I can say about that is, don’t do anyone any favors, ok? Making your kid sit at the dinner table for hours after dinner that should have been over eons ago just because you’re trying to prove some point that eating Thousand Island-soaked iceberg lettuce is going to, at the end of the day, really make them more healthy and help them to live a longer, more fruitful life…? That’s bullshit. SERIOUSLY, do you even HEAR THE WORDS COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH as you try to JUSTIFY something like that?? Thousand Island dressing, even in its most modest serving sizes, is actually WORSE for you than eating an entire package of Oreo cookies. I SWEAR, I’ve looked the damn details up on the Internet. Forcing your kid, to almost waterboarding-like traumatic ends, to eat vegetables that he’s going to eventually choke out in a nausea-fueled culmination to, oh I don’t know, three or four dinners a week…is not doing anyone any good. It’s just ridiculous. I mean, honestly.
The movie addresses how divorced parents deal with holidays as well, handling such subject-matter deftly, and with care.
Halloween serves as an interesting, compelling backdrop in the film, forcing both parents to have separate Halloween celebrations with their son due to the separation that’s been enacted. Nicole has her night first, dropping off her son at Charlie’s house, at which point he takes his son out in Manhattan, struggling to find storefronts and mini-marts that can provide some modicum of candy for his son. Thing is, his son is tired; he’s already had a Halloween. Having to do it twice illustrates the challenge that divorced parents must face when holidays are unforgiving from a temporal perspective. When Charlie comes home to his apartment at the end of the night and his son empties his orange pumpkin candy basket, there’s hardly anything that falls out. Although there are a few Tootsie Rolls. I don’t know about you, but Tootsie Rolls are probably one of the worst candies you could ever give out to anyone during Halloween. They look like cylinders of shit, they often pull out the fillings in your teeth, and they generally communicate your lack of interest or compassion as a treat-giver in providing a positive memory to the children visiting your home. They’re also a natural laxative, DO YOU GET THAT? A natural fucking laxative. THAT is the last thing you should be giving strange children on Halloween. But if you are a child’s parents and you’ve just come back from Halloween and noticed that your kid has an inordinate amount of natural candy-like laxatives instead of the Holy Grail Butterfingers or glorious peanut butter cups, then do your kid a favor and switch them out for something that won’t cause a trip to the Emergency Room after ingesting far too many of the damn things. That’s the kind of memory that sticks with a person for years, sometimes decades, and definitely (you can take my word for it) causes the need for extensive therapy based on the fact that your parents were clearly not nurturing nor cared about your well being. Having to have an IV, in a HOSPITAL, jammed into your arm (and after multiple tries because the horrible Nurse’s ASSISTANT has no fucking idea what they’re doing) to feed you intravenously some cocktail of liquid because your dehydrated body desperately needs sustenance after you hurled most of your internal organs out into the toilet of a SUBWAY…it’s just horrific, that’s all I have to say.
Anyway…A Marriage Story is a solid film. It’s well done, and the performances are stellar so if you get the opportunity you should totally check it out.