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A-Z of Movies: Day 13 - Marriage Story

 Day 13: Marriage Story

"I want you to know that eventually this will all be over and whatever we win or will be the two of you having to figure this out together."

Released in 2019

Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda

Rating on IMDB: 7.9/10

Warning: SPOILERS!

A lot of friends told me to watch this and I added it to my list ages ago and forgot about it. I definitely enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It's a slow build but some scenes were brilliantly done and it was the first time I've seen Adam Driver's performance and boy was he impressive.

Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) Barber decide to call it quits after a decade of marriage. They try to do what's best for both of them while simultaneously attempting to protect their 8-year-old son Henry (Robertson).  Unable to come to an agreement on their own, they hire lawyers to help them figure things out. 

From the very beginning, this movie reminded me a lot of another film on my list 'Kramer vs Kramer'. It was like a modern-day version with a few tweaks here and there. Johansson is not my favorite actress by any means but I think she did a reasonably decent job as doting mum Nicole. I didn't really like Henry though, he was more bratty and sulky than endearing. The MVP in this was 100% Adam Driver. His portrayal of Charlie was so multi-dimensional. There were scenes where you liked him, you sympathised with him, and others where you really hated his guts. The narration at the very beginning of the story makes you feel like they are a couple that love each other deeply and can overcome anything. However, as they both start to unravel, it's clear to see that there's just no way they would be able to be happy if they stayed together.

There was definitely more of a 'the dad is the bad guy' vibe in this than K vs K and I think it was the writer's motivation to sway the audience more towards the mother's side. Being a woman and a mother myself, I could definitely relate to some issues that were highlighted and  mentioned but I also felt like they 'villainized' Charlie to make it seem like no matter what choice he made, he was still the selfish narcissistic artist that only cared about his own goals and dreams. 

Ray Liotta. Still fierce at 66.

Alan Alda. Still adorable at 85.

I really appreciated some scenes where the focus was more on a character's reactions when another person was speaking, it isn't done enough in films. For instance, there is one occasion where the 2 lawyers are speaking to each other but you don't see them, instead what you see are alternate close-ups of Charlie and Nicole's emotionally drained faces filled with despair and regret. My favorite scene was the epic argument in Charlie's apartment just because of how realistic it was although Johansson was no match for Driver's intensity and raw emotion IMHO. It reminded me of another great movie about a couple's failed marriage 'Revolutionary Road' which had Leo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet battle it out in a fantastic heart-wrenching argument between husband and wife.  

I also liked the random bits where you felt an inexplicable sense of awkwardness and anxiety like the scene in which Charlie and Henry were visited by an evaluator who would determine if he was deemed good enough to earn custody of his son. I was also surprised to spot Alan Alda and Ray Liotta in small but still pivotal roles as two lawyers with very different styles. It was extremely random and unexpected to see both Charlie and Nicole sing songs made popular in the world of musical theatre towards the end of the film but strangely it felt appropriate for their characters. 

Trivia Time

Based in large part on Noah Baumbach's own experiences when he divorced Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013. According to Baumbach, Leigh read the script, has seen the film, and likes it.

Adam Driver's performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive" from the 1970 Broadway musical "Company" was recorded live and done in one take.

When Noah Baumbach approached Scarlett Johansson to join the film, unbeknownst to him, Scarlett was actually going through her second divorce.

It was Adam Driver's idea for his character Charlie to be a theatre director.

No dialogue or moments of hesitation are improvised in the fight scene in Charlie's apartment. Everything was scripted.

Adam Driver had to punch the wall 15 times due to multiple takes. At one point, he punched so hard he almost punched through the wall behind the breakaway wall.

The juice box that Nicole sips and sets down before their big fight, remains on the floor until the final shot of the scene. Director Noah Baumbach said "The juice box is [their son's] presence in their lives... he's not here... he's really powerless in this situation'.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson did 50 takes of the fight scene in Charlie's apartment and Noah Baumbach would give notes to each of them separately to surprise the other actor and gain different reactions.

(My own little tidbit of trivia, this film also starred Laura Dern, who was in Little Women [the movie I watched before this one] AND Noah Baumbach is married to Greta Gerwig who directed LW! What a coincidence. Definitely enjoyed this film more though)


Thankfully this was a movie that I felt deserved the high rating on IMDB and I'm not sure I'd watch the entire thing again because it's pretty sad but maybe just the few standout scenes on their own. I am pleased that they didn't try to make it a happy Hollywood ending and I give it a strong 7.5/10 with Adam Driver's performance getting an 8.5. 

Written by Gabrielle Boyd

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