Marriage Story (2019)

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Food: One of the greatest places in the city is located at the corner of 12th street and Avenue A. It is a dog cafe called Boris & Horton, where pups of all shapes and sizes roam around off-leash as their owners get to sit and work, eat or talk amongst each other. Having to be away from my roommates dog all week due to the festival, before this showing I made a point to spend some quality time with our little siberian husky, Dakota, and brought her here. I enjoyed a delicious Avocado toast with chilly peppers and got a hot vanilla latte. All the dogs were festively wearing costumes. It was magic.

Film: “Marriage Story” is Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”) tenth film as director. He is known for making dramatic comedies that seek to pull the humor from pain, and creates films that resonate because he masters specificity in place and character. “Marriage Story” is a love story, without a doubt, but it is a story about the end of a relationship. It is a story about divorce, and what can happen when a couple, who share a child and a life together, split those pieces apart. Even with the best of intentions, it is messy and difficult, expensive and awful. It is described in this film as “death without a body” – an insurmountable, but somewhat intangible loss.

“Marriage Story” follows an artistic couple, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), who still care about each other deeply and share an 8 year old child (Azhy Robertson), as they work through the grueling process of getting divorced. The story begins with both protagonists reading an entry they have each written about what they love about the other person – portrayed by voiceover and a series of memories from throughout their marriage. It is wonderfully thoughtful. We learn about how Nicole is too nice to strangers, plays with their son, Henry, with gusto, and can never remember to close a cabinet door. Charlie is a theater director who never second guesses himself, eats like someone is going to steal food from him and is incredibly neat. They are both exceedingly competitive. These small details tell us more about our characters than a biographical footnote could, adding depth not only to the person, but to their relationship and closeness with each other. The things one would only know about a person whom they have loved and been with for a long time.

Nicole is from a filmmaking family in Los Angeles, and after hitting her big break as the “hot girl in a teen movie” several years prior, found herself in New York, falling quickly in love with Charlie, and throwing herself into his world, acting for his theater company and starting a family with him. Now, though, she feels that she has no piece of the world that is her own. She accepts a  role in the pilot of an upcoming TV show in LA and they decide she can pursue that and while she is working on that, their son can live on the west coast with her. Despite their well-meaning decision to separate “without lawyers,” Nicole reluctantly sees well-regarded divorce attorney, Nora Fanshaw (played phenomenally by Laura Dern – who, dare I say, gives us a taste of her “Big Little Lies” Renata in this). (We also get to enjoy fantastic performances from Ray Liotta and the ever-charming Julie Hagerty!) Nicole decides to go through with it, and in a hilarious segment involving her mom and sister, attempts to be casual – “not make it a thing” – while serving Charlie the papers.

Forced into the legal proceedings that are required to secure a legal divorce, the couple finds themselves turning into the people they thought they would never become. The film is designed to give neutral perspective. Charlie cheated and disregarded Nicole’s needs during their marriage, but she is now basically trying to steal his son to the other side of the country. Baumbach uses his unique ability to combine comedy and lightness with heart-breaking tragedy with the perfect equilibrium. It is a poignant human story – heartfelt, sincere and affectionate. It is a triumph. 

 

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