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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"Marriage Story" Not As Insightful or Compelling as Baumbach Thinks It Is



"Marriage Story" is overrated. Yes, I get it that some viewers are sobbing while watching it and insisting that it perfectly captures their own divorce, or the divorce of their parents. "Marriage Story" didn't do that for me. Alan Alda, as a nice guy divorce lawyer, Laura Dern, as a diabolically  manipulative, slinky-dress and high-heeled-shoe wearing lawyer, and Ray Liotta as the ultimate shark divorce lawyer, were the best things about this movie. Their parts are written and performed with great skill and they satisfied me greatly.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are fine, but their characters simply aren't written as compellingly as writer-director Noah Baumbach wanted them to be. Baumbach was shooting for a tear-jerker where the two characters were equally sympathetic and the divorce was a great,  unavoidable tragedy.

I was bored while watching this over-long movie. I didn't feel that a whole heck of a lot was at stake. The phrase "First world problems" kept going through my head. Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are both young, healthy, good looking, wealthy, blessed with many supportive friends, and enjoying great careers in show business. I saw no insurmountable obstacle that made the divorce inevitable. Two people committed to a marriage could have worked  out Charlie and Nicole's problems. That they chose not to do so is their own choice and I can't be made to care more about their marriage than they do.

Also, the divorce itself didn't strike me as such a big deal. So what if they get divorced? Why should I care? Both will be with another equally gorgeous, successful show business spouse in no time.

The bulk of the movie: many long scenes where Charlie and Nicole tell each other or someone else what they like and don't like about each other, themselves, or their marriage. These scenes don't drive any plot and they didn't involve me or get me to care. "Marriage Story" opens with a scene of Charlie and Nicole reading lists of things they love about each other. Again, I was bored. I just did not care that Nicole cuts Charlie's hair well or that Charlie closes the cabinets Nicole neglects to close.

For a long time I kept waiting  for a scene that would make me care. I kept waiting for some insight, some plot development, that  would make me gasp and not regret spending two hours listening to rich, lucky people whine about a problem that they created themselves. That scene never came. One line made me nod: Charlie tells Nicole that she doesn't want her own voice; rather, she wants to whine about not having her own voice.

Some masterful plots throw two antagonists up against each other and cause me to debate within myself which antagonist I sympathize with. "Marriage Story" did not perform that legerdemain for me. The script is weighted in Charlie's favor. Nicole is not giving saving the marriage her all. Charlie is more invested. A woman who quits so easily on a commitment to a desirable man who is the father of her young son, a son who clearly loves his father, is not compelling to me.

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