Monday, December 23, 2019

Marriage Story

Charlie and Nicole Barber (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson), the warring couple at the center of Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story get hijacked by their lawyers. And it’s similar to the audience’s experience at the beginning of the film. The movie starts with both characters in voice over listing the good and bad traits of their partners in a disarmingly harmless and affectionate way. However, it’s all part of a break up that’s being orchestrated by their marriage counselor/arbitrator. Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) and Ben Spitz (Alan Alda), the lawyers, similarly both turn the couple’s attempt to work out their differences into a deadly legal battle that only ups the ante. Scenes from a Marriage makes a cameo appearance in the movie, but Baumbach’s art is a little like Tolstoy’s “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There’s a little Bergman and a lot of Strindberg in the hijinks. Yet the director displays a sentimental streak that palliates the cruelty, while remaining totally in the category of earned emotion. Spoiler alert: at the film’s very end, their child Henry (Azhy Robertson) has found one of the torn notebook sheets on which Nicole has delineated her complaints. He’s reading it to his father when his mother appears in the doorway. “I’ll never stop loving him, even though it doesn’t make sense anymore,” Henry reads, as a tear rolls down his father’s face. The real question is why? It never seems that bad. “You’re so merged with your selfishness, you don’t even know it’s selfishness anymore,” Nicole chides about her husband’s male cluelessness. But the complaints rotate on their own axis. However perpetual and unresolvable, they appear to be, you can’t help thinking that you’ve heard worse.

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