“Marriage Story” Explores The Unfortunate Reality of Going Through a Divorce

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The New York Times

Amy Gordon, Staff Writer

Unlike many films or shows that contain divorce and struggling relationships, “Marriage Story” accurately reveals the raw and tragic complexity that comes along with divorcing your spouse, especially when there is a child involved. Released to theaters on Nov. 6, 2019, this film later became available on Netflix on Dec. 6, 2019, and went on to gross about $2.3 million world wide. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson brilliantly bring Noah Baumbach’s—director and writer—portrayal of divorce to the big screen through the characters of Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) Barber who desperately attempt to remain friends and win their son’s attention whilst going through this difficult time. Driver and Johansson’s incredible acting, along with Baumbach’s unique direction, makes this movie heart-breaking, but keeps all viewers on the edge of their seats, trying to predict how this story may end.

In the opening scene, Nicole and Charlie are painted as the perfect couple and are shown going through daily life married in New York, while each voices over the reason why they love their spouse. However, viewers quickly find that the two are getting a divorce due to the numerous flaws in their relationship. Although she acted in her husband’s theater shows for years in New York, Nicole finds herself moving to Los Angeles in order to start a TV show, taking her son Henry (Azhy Robertson) with her. Charlie, shocked with the idea of divorce, wants to keep the family in their original city, as he is a stage director in the midst of taking his show to broadway. With both characters on opposite sides of the country, this coast-to-coast divorce immediately makes the situation more complex and difficult to endure.

Nicole immediately finds a lawyer, played by Laura Dern, and expresses that she and Charlie both want the divorce to be as easy and painless as possible. This wish, however, becomes unattainable, as eventually both Charlie and Nicole’s lawyers go head-to-head in a courtroom, exposing each others clients for being poor parents and bad spouses while requesting extreme demands. 

With this once polite divorce being turned into a competition, Charlie and Nicole struggle to keep their friendship. Although they wanted to keep things simple and easy-going, the two begin pointlessly fighting due to the stress that the divorce is bringing both of them. Eventually, the exes both realize how they have been pitted against each other by their own lawyers and find that neither of them want to ruin the other’s life. 

The unfortunate and realistic ending reveals that in a divorce there is no one solution that can make everyone content; however, Charlie and Nicole are able to overcome the struggles they faced and remain friends while keeping their son happy. Although it may seem unsatisfying, it rightfully shows how the lingering feelings of love, perhaps not romantic, for the other person are still present even after this difficult event in their lives.

Instead of favoring Charlie or Nicole, Baumbach shows both characters as lovable and extremely amicable, making it nearly impossible to choose a side in the divorce. Depicting them in an unbiased way and showing both perspectives allows the viewers to sympathize for both parents, revealing that there is no one person in this situation to blame, like many divorces outside of the movie. 

The acting in this film has received positive feedback from many critics as well as the Academy. For the Golden Globes, Driver and Johansson were both nominated for Actor and Actress in a Drama Motion Picture, while Dern received Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. In the recent Oscars ceremony, Dern took home the award for Best Supporting Acterss; additionally, Driver was nominated for Best Actor, Johansson for Best Actress and Baumbach for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Ultimately, “Marriage Story” is painful to watch due to the sadness and pain the characters Charlie and Nicole feel while trying to complete their divorce, while still loving each other. Although their lives together do not work out, they were able to remain friends despite the open-ended finale. This film brings awareness to this common situation that many families go through and deserves all the awards that it was nominated for.