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Mini review: Marriage Story

Both of us Chicks saw this one at the Middleburg Film Festival earlier this year where it was the opening night film. From director Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha) it stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a New York couple whose marriage is coming apart. Nicole is a former TV actress married to Charlie who’s a theater director. And they have a cute little boy Henry (Azhy Robertson), whose custody becomes an issue when Mom moves home to the west coast to star in a TV show leaving Dad to commute if he wants to be a part of his son’s life. But once a couple of high powered LA divorce lawyers (Laura Dern and Ray Liotta) enter the story, what started out as an amicable split turns contentious. The film has some great performances, but sadly the story itself feels entirely too familiar.

The film is definitely somewhat autobiographical taking its cues from Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s 2013 real-life divorce and custody battles. And there are definitely some scenes that feel personal. But there are also scenes that feel like what he wished he said or did. So some rings painfully true and some, not so much. And while they’re going back and forth with the battles, and yet still can’t bring themselves to admit that it’s really over, Nicole and Charlie grapple with listening to the lawyers who are pushing for a big expensive fight. Charlie ditches his high powered attorney for a kinder gentler Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) thinking that he doesn’t want to be part of that hatefest the other lawyers expected. He really just wants to be a part of his kids’s life. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because you can’t help but think again and again of Kramer vs Kramer while you’re watching.

The film is getting a lot of awards season love, and I entirely agree that the performances are all top notch. But the story really never reeled me in. I knew where it was going and didn’t care much for either of the protagonists. It’s clear that Baumbach wants you to be on team Charlie (his stand-in), since it seems like he’s the one making all the sacrifices, but as the story unfolds you can see how his ego set the whole thing in motion. I’d love to hear Jennifer Jason Leigh’s take on it. Fortunately, it’s already on Netflix, so stream it and see for yourself if it speaks to you.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: The official opening-night film at Middleburg socked everyone in the gut with (MFF Spotlight Director Award Winner) Baumbach’s dialogue-heavy, character-driven story about marriage, and divorce. It’s a compelling look at the break-up of a marriage, a bi-coastal custody battle, and lots of family dynamics. It’s absorbing, raw and authentic, though not exactly entertaining. Reminded me quite a bit of ‘Kramer vs. Kramer.’ Driver’s performance is especially strong, resulting in significant, well-deserved awards buzz. It sticks with you. You’ll almost forget he’s Kylo Ren! -hb]

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