Why Netflix’s Marriage Story Is The Break Up Film Of Our Times
Netflix’s Marriage Story has scored six Academy Awards nominations and honestly, nobody is surprised. This Noah Baumbach directorial, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver is devastatingly good. Devastating, because that is what a bitter dismantling of a once loving marriage feels like, even to someone who merely hovers above it and observes it from Baumbach’s gaze. When I watched this film last week, I remember feeling this odd mix of relief and heaviness in my heart that very few films on relationships have managed to invoke. In a world, where we still love to love the idea of a “Happily Ever After” doesn’t a film that chronicles a couple’s separation stick out like a sore thumb? No, because we know that this film is much closer to the reality of matrimony than most fairy tale romances will ever be.
- Netflix’s Marriage Story has scored six Academy Awards nominations.
- The film stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in leading roles and is directed by Noah Baumbach.
- Marriage Story is more close to the reality of matrimony than most fairy tale romances will ever be.
- The film shows how divorce is practical and justified in most cases, but depleting as well.
In a world, where we still love to love the idea of a “Happily Ever After” doesn’t a film that chronicles a couple’s separation stick out like a sore thumb? And yet, we know that this film is much closer to the reality of marriages than most fairy tale romances will ever be.
Marriage Story opens with Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) telling what are the things that they like about their partner. What we get is a picture of a happy Brooklyn family. Charlie is a promising theatre director, while Nicole is his lead actor, who gave up a career in Hollywood to settle down and work with her husband. They have a lovely eight-year-old son Henry and before you realise that the monologues on what they like about each other are in fact happening in a marriage counsellor’s office, you are already invested in the “happily ever after” of this couple. Nicole decides to move to Los Angeles with her son, where she has an offer to work on the pilot of a television show, which means good money, recognition, and proximity to her mother and sister. While Charlie disapproves of her choice, he assumes that she’ll come back with her son to Brooklyn. “We are a New York family,” we see Charlie insist many times in the film.
Things turn ugly when Nicole serves divorce papers to Charlie and hires a lawyer (give Laura Dern all the awards for this season already!) thus forcing him to do the same. This is where the process to end their marriage turns ugly. There’s a kid in the picture and as a viewer, the ordeal over custody, the clawing at old wounds and the nastiness that the lawyers belt out to prove that their client is a better parent makes your heartache. It is never easy to watch love corrode into hatred and resentment.
What this film gets right is that it doesn’t present any partner as a victim. We empathise with both the husband and wife equally. Nicole feels she never had a voice in their relationship and wants to reclaim her career and life on her terms. What’s more, Charlie cheated on her with a colleague. How could one sympathise with Charlie then, you may think. But then you see him struggling to keep his theatre company afloat as he bears the expenses of the separation, maintains two houses, one in Brooklyn while another in LA, and goes back and forth between the two cities for work, divorce proceedings and to be closer to his son, and you feel for him. Divorce is practical and justified in most cases, this film tells us, but it is also an exhausting ordeal for all the parties involved, especially children.
Every couple is Charlie and Nicole, just a few resentments and bad decisions away from losing each other.
One of the many curious things that Marriage Story does, is to not put infidelity at the centre of a separation. Charlie sleeping with his co-worker is one of the reasons why Nicole opts for a divorce, but it isn’t just the only reason. Often infidelity is just a result, a visible crack in an already fractured relationship. The true resentment lurks somewhere underneath the surface of a functional, “successful” and efficient marriage. But it finds its way out one way or the other. In the case of this couple, there is a confrontation scene where the viewer realises how divorce is the right way ahead for this couple. The toxicity, they harbour for each other, can any partner get over it? Imagine telling your spouse that you wish they were dead? Or taking nasty shots at their career (something they may be proud of) or playing on their deepest insecurities. Every couple is Charlie and Nicole, just a few resentments and bad decisions away from losing each other.
Director Baumbach treats Nicole and Charlie very differently, as to how each one of them handles the divorce. Nicole is shown to be slowly getting the reigns of her life back, something that she had initiated the separation for. She begins to wear her hair differently, starts dressing sharply and reclaims her sexual agency. She even finds professional success and steadiness seep into her life almost easily after the split. Charlie, on the other hand, is painted as a picture of loneliness. A man who realises the consequences of his self-centredness and decisions a little too late. Is this reflective of how women and men actually react to separations?
The biggest takeaways from Marriage Story for me is its take on long-term relationships. Marriages end, love turns into hatred and then indifference, but does it end? Do you stop loving or caring for a person once you leave them? How long does it take to stop calling someone “honey” or to fuss over their hair or to stop genuinely celebrating their success? Does the story of a marriage end with divorce, or is there more after “The End”?
Image Credit: Netflix
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.