Unpopular opinion: Divorce sucks.
Sure, there are those rare cases where divorce makes the most sense and can even save lives to an extent, but usually its a draining, humiliating and astronomically expensive hassle that no one ever want’s to go through.
Noah Baumbach uses his own personal experience on the subject to craft the brutally honest, yet sometimes hilarious film Marriage Story. The film stars a theater director, played by Adam Driver, and an actress, played by Scarlett Johansson, going through a separation in their marriage. As the story progresses, this intimate and delicate issue soon falls into the hands of lawyers and public opinions, which only make matters worse despite their perceived intentions.
The two leads are emotional powerhouses that further cement their status as two of this generation’s finest actors, talented far beyond their more-universally known roles in Star Wars and The Avengers. The chemistry between the two is white-hot and volatile, yet earnest and longing for things to work out. The humanity in their actions is incredibly relatable, as they both teeter between fulfilling their own self wants while attempting to do what’s best for their son. “What could have been” is a storm cloud that hangs above both their heads, as the thought of what they missed out on, who they could have been is shoved to the forefront by the will of outside parties.
The introduction of the pair’s respective lawyers produces an arguably unnecessary toxicity that shifts the discussion of divorce from anguish to anger. Laura Dern fantastically portrays the charismatic and deceptively-charming lawyer of Johansson’s Nicole. Her soothing comfort of Nicole and her powerful assertions towards the public perception of womanhood make her seem like a trustworthy ally, but it becomes all the more apparent where her intentions are coming from. This is her job and she will do what she must for her client without a care of how it affects the other party. It’s a pain and a discussion she doesn’t have to take home with her, amplifying how separated from the actual issue she is.
Driver’s Charlie goes through two lawyers during the divorce process. Alan Alda portrays his first lawyer, who genuinely seems to care about what happens with Charlie and Nicole. It’s still a job to him, but does seem to understand the emotional side to the issue. Alas, he proves to be no match for the powerhouse that is Dern’s Nora, which drives Charlie to enlist the help of Ray Liota’s Jay, an aggressive and cutthroat lawyer that makes it a point to defame Nicole’s image as much as possible to win Charlie custody over his son. Jay and Nora are cutthroat in the court room, yet their attitudes outside the courtroom are the most telling. They exchange pleasantries and discuss lunch as if the weight of incoming divorce is practically non existent.
This is something that stood out to me the most. These outside forces that are so quick to come in and make the process of divorce worse by working for the benefit of one member of the marriage without considering the adverse effect it could have on the couple’s relationship as a whole. When the legal proceedings are over, the lawyers move on with their lives and go to the next case, leaving the former partners to pick up the pieces.
Structurally, this is possibly Noah Baumbach’s most accessible film to date. The dialogue is earnest and raw, never exactly attempting to feel overly poetic, but honest. From emotional monologues over a presumed loss of identity to a heated screaming match where fiery emotions condemn one another to being worthless scum, Buambach’s writing has never been tighter. Additionally, the film has almost a dated charm to it, feeling like it would have been right at home with the romance movies of the 70s and 80s. This is enforced through Randy Newman’s floaty yet emotional score and several fade-out transitions that you don’t really see in most films anymore.
I’ve been lucky enough to never really experience the effects of divorce firsthand, but from what people who have have told me, this film hits the nail on the head. Baumbach takes his own personal experience and transforms it into a story with universal accessibility. It’s not a story where you’re asked to pick a side or have a clear sense of who is most in the wrong. The film asks you to listen, find yourself in these characters, understand what they’ve done, what they should have done and what they are willing to do. Despite what you think of the two leads, you can empathize with them as this personal, private issue is broadcasted and overblown like a Broadway play for any onlookers to see. The film transcends into something that’s so realistically ridiculous that you can’t possibly forget that this is how the world is sometimes.
At the end of the day, this movie is about love. Maybe not the fairy tale embodiment of love we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in movies, but love nonetheless. It’s an honest, brutal, transformative type of love that remains through all the vitriol and slander. It’s a love that is broken down, torn apart, and absolutely annihilated until it becomes an entirely new type of love. The final shot of the film is such a simple act of kindness that may seem minuscule, but the impact of it speaks volumes. It’s sad to see the deterioration of this once happy relationship play out, but you leave knowing there will always be that unsaid yet understood care these two will forever carry.
There’s always a silver lining, however. If Noah Baumbach hadn’t needed to scrounge up money for his own divorce, we never would have gotten the modern cinematic masterpiece that is Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
Appily Married Martini
This crisp martini celebrates the happy marriage between apple and honey, inspired by the not-so-happy marriage featured in Marriage Story. Additionally, the glass is rimmed with a sprinkle of cinnamon to give you that fuzzy fall feeling. Easy to sip and easy to get buzzed off of, I now pronounce you and this drink happily paired!
My throat closed up as I wrote that last sentence but I’m leaving it in anyway.
- 1 1/2 shots of vodka
- 1/2 shot of green apple schnapps
- 1/2 shot of grapefruit juice
- 1/3 ounce of honey
- Wet the rim of a martini glass before rimming it with the cinnamon.
- Add vodka, schnapps, grapefruit juice and honey in a shaker with ice.
- Shake well.
- Strain cocktail into the martini glass.