Marriage Story (2019)

The film starts with an excellent fakeout, but on the whole it’s a painfully earnest realisation of a divorce, of a divorce channeled through a parasitic legal process that at times seems designed to maximise the former couple’s hatred of each other. Note how easily and chummily the lawyers order lunch, while their clients are in abject emotional devastation. Endlessly dehumanising, and Kafkaesque in its circular nonsense (a paradox of what establishing L.A. residency means is particularly frustrating). Ray Liotta’s character declares ‘half of crazy is crazy’ to refer to negotiating process, but it applies just as well to the the multifaceted motivations of the the two lead characters. The film is definitely weighted toward Adam Driver’s character, and while he’s not spared (the middle of the film is a particular illustration of his selfishness), the film feels so drawn from his perspective that it loses some of the balance that marks its best moments.

There are some great comic moments, particularly to do with dripping blood, as well as some jabs at the theatre scene and how it meshes with the legal proceedings – ‘his genius was an intangible asset built during the marriage!’. There’s a real remove just from the fundamental wealth of the characters though. The actors are good enough, and the scenes well-written enough, that there’s not much time to really dwell on it, but the privilege on display feels disgusting at times, and is only really highlighted implicitly in one court scene.

There are a lot of writerly little layers and things. Driver’s character being the Invisible Man at one Halloween, and a ghost at another, one where he’s just noticed his removal from all the family photos. Johansson’s character not being able to cry on stage, but crying easily at home. Johansson’s character being mistaken for Driver’s as dressing up as the Thin White Duke (L.A. based, cocaine usage), when she was actually Bowie circa Let’s Dance (purported to be his artistic lowpoint, his sellout era). A decision made at the end that inspires the muted wonder and ultimate deadening feeling of ‘so why did we go through this at all, why couldn’t you do this, change this earlier?’. Even with those sorts of things, the film’s strength is in staying grounded, most powerfully-realised through the ability of the cast. Four rented houseplants, and a George Martin costume.

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