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Review: Noah Baumbach’s devastating MARRIAGE STORY

Image from Netflix

Before this movie will be over two lives and a family will be shattered. Noah Baumbach brings his most scalding portrait of a family headed by Scarlett Johanssen and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie Barber. From a couple filled with dreams and plans to Have It All — he’s a theater director; she’s an actress of some note who left her career to be a wife–, we have an early, key scene, a subway scene. One one end, Nicole sits, while clear across the car, Charlie stands. Both stare at seemingly nothing. Mind you, this is an empty car with plenty of seating. We wonder what is dividing the two of them… and once the inevitable split down the middle happens, we will get it under the form of a protracted separation sequence that by the end will have left you gasping for air and hoping this never, ever, happens to you.

A detour: how did I miss this? I tend to fling myself at Baumbach’s movies with the hunger of a rabid tiger hunting down its prey. Then I dig in, feast in on the rich story and characters, and leave, satisfied, only to throw praises shortly after to anyone who will listen. This time, the scene at the 57th New York Film Festival was too rich for me to choose and since top bibliography ghostwriter websites for mba pay for my film studies dissertation introduction essay writing service uk reviews esl home work ghostwriting site watch viagra brand australia best viagra prices 100mg how long does cialis 20mg https://pharmacy.chsu.edu/pages/general-papers-essays/45/ case papers how do i write a thank you note short movie review frost ivax viagra source url price viagra in uk cada cuando se debe tomar viagra case study interview examples answers best course work editor websites ca https://worldtop20.org/system/esl-dissertation-results-proofreading-service-for-masters/30/ click here buy brand name viagra dissertation review service example essay of exemplification presentation powerpoint go here ap biology essays on evolution http://mcorchestra.org/10361-sample-business-studies-dissertation/ click here custom dissertation proposal writer services ca go site viagra for the heart antibiotics online canada Marriage Story was coming out on Netflix in November. I chose to focus on smaller gems like Vitalina Varela, The Traitor, Saturday Fiction, and Beanpole. Oh well. I don’t regret a thing.

Also, I didn’t really think that this would be that good. The Meyerowitz Stories was great, yes, but not explosively great — typical Baumbach narrative of a dysfunctional family who can’t quite fit in. As a matter of fact, the last movie of his that struck me this deeply was Frances Ha. Nothing could prepare me for the emotional impact Marriage Story would ultimately have on me, particularly on that awful, horrible scene in which Nicole and Charlie meet for one last time and… well, you have to see it to believe it.

Back to the movie. Baumbach was inspired by his own divorce to Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013 (at about the same time he was seeing Greta Gerwig, who was the star of Frances Ha). I don’t know the events that led to Baumbach’s split. I can, however, see a marked correlation between the movie that became Marriage Story and previous films like War of the Roses (minus the property damage), Scenes from a Marriage, and Kramer vs. Kramer. In all of these movies, the wife is the one who decides she cannot continue with the marriage and sees that the love once shared is and has been dead in the water for a while now. The husband, clearly dumbfounded, is left to collect the shambles and attempt either reconciliation or some form of closure that will probably not happen, at least, not before an enormous legal battle that will erode at the emotions and end with battle scars and a child torn in between.

That battle – the proceedings leading to their divorce proper. Once Nicole has decided to remain in Los Angeles after walking out on her New York-bound husband, she seeks legal advice from everyone she can, leaving Charlie with little options. Once she settles on Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern, excellent) the legal war is on. Charlie, still not quite realizing what is about to ensue, stalls, but at Nora’s cold warning of what will happen if he does not heed the papers that have been served to him, forcibly relocates to LA to prove residence in order to claim custody of his son. He then rents out an apartment and first goes with a good but ineffectual lawyer (Alan Alda), only to settle with an aggressive attorney (played by Ray Liotta) once Nora throws everything on the table to make sure Nicole lands not just on her feet but with thick roots.

in the end, who wins? No one, really… Charlie has to now contend that his life with Nicole has ended, and she herself has moved on but has she really?

Marriage Story is a devastating piece of meta-fiction disguised as a drama that never overstates its emotions in a bombastic fashion. Instead, it lets scenes play out naturally, allowing us to get to know both sides of the story. We see two people who are competitive (the word tends to come out in their statements), who try to see each other, but simply, cannot. Sadly, as is often the case, it is the wife who often has to play subservient to the husband and let her ambitions glide by while he creates his empire. That is all fine and dandy… until it all comes crashing down, brick by brick. Johannsen and Driver never overplay their parts, and you constantly get reminded that while they never state it, there is the bond that even after the war is over, keeps them together. They go all out in complex, subdued performances that make their late confrontation so heart-wrenching to experience. Laura Dern has never been better in a part that is rich in feminist brushstrokes and is not afraid to expose her breasts in a scene in which her client (Nicole) is being slut-shamed for having bared hers in an indie movie. In many ways, she represents the aggressive voice most women going through a nasty divorce never get to have, and her scenes are magnetic. Liotta and Alda show up playing their parts in their idiosyncratic style, and there is Julie Hagerty in a small but comic part as Nicole’s dizzy mother.


Sam Elliott defies death in The Hero.

Director: Brett Haley
Runtime: 93 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Superstardom somehow eluded him, and yet he’s still remembered as the lanky, grizzled cowboy from the 80s and 90s with the deep, resonant voice and powerful presence. A twist of irony now brings Sam Elliott back on the big screen in this intimate narrative as Lee Hayden, a man well past his prime, who’s become nearly forgotten as an actor who once had a huge hit movie in the 70s called “The Hero”, a picture that has since earned him a cult following. Now, older, withdrawn, divorced from his artist wife Valerie (a much welcomed appearance by real-life wife Katharine Ross), estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter), he spends time building pipe dreams with his neighbor and former co-star in a TV series, Jeremy Frost (Nick Offerman), a one-time promising actor who now sells drugs and does little else but collect old movies.

A call to appear in an obscure awards show that caters to actors who have starred in Westerns to receive a lifetime achievement award brings Lee back into the spotlight and into the attention of stand up comedian Charlotte (Laura Prepon), an occasional user who’s also one of Jeremy’s clients and has an attraction to older men. While accepting his award (and under some happy pills to coast the evening, thanks to Charlotte), Lee goes viral and begins to trend. Calls to audition for parts in big-budget movies start appearing, but Lee has serious doubts of his own self — plus, ever since the doctor diagnosed him with a dangerous form of cancer, and sensing time is closing in on him, it starts to affect him in ways he couldn’t have imagined. An attempt to rekindle with Lucy doesn’t go as planned, and he wonders where is this new relationship with Charlotte going.

I may have become a bit cynical because the cancer (or potentially fatal-disease) storyline has been done to pieces (and with much success among female-centric audiences looking for a good cry, but The Hero fires on all cylinders with the expertise of a grizzled gunslinger with a few surprises still underneath his sleeve. Never once does the story wring any emotion from you using his disease — a plus for me. In fact, Sam Elliott’s performance alone is solid gold. Here’s a man at the twilight of his years, a loner, quiet, not much of a husband it seems (a thing that he owns), even less of a father, drifting on old fame from a bygone era. The cancer-diagnosis turns up as a catalyst — but to an extent — to shake Lee up a little, make him dust himself off and see what repairs he might still be able to perform. Charlotte, a character that could have been written off as a one-scene only performance, grows on Lee in unexpected ways and boy, can Prepon bring in a grounded performance. In the end, however, this is a moving portrait of a man lost at sea trying to find his way back and perhaps, extend his chances at a second shot at life, if at all for a few. Highly recommended.

The Hero continues its run in NYC at the Village East as it moves into its second month in theaters. Go see it.


3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)


Tom Hanks returns to the screen in this rather small, intimate affair as yet another businessman / negotiator having to travel to another country to present an offer to a person in power and hope they bite the bait. This time he’s not in any sort of danger as he was in Bridge of Spies or Captain Philips; if anything, the only thing he might be is sick, and then A Hologram for the King reveals another story underneath the surface, and in that I think, is where it succeeds.

A Hologram for the King starts with a clever scene: Alan steps in for David Byrne and becomes the performer for what seems to be a video for Once in a Lifetime, but is in reality the events of his own life: he’s lost his wife, his house, and is in the middle of a flight to Saudi Arabia where he will attempt to sell a communications system to the reigning king that uses holograms. That actual sales pitch keeps getting postponed due to a series of events that Alan can’t control. His office is located in a hot tent with no food and the bare minimum. No one seems to know where the king is. A Danish analyst (Sidse Babett Knudsen) offers a little breadth of freshness, but can’t really do much else. One morning, when Alan again is told that the king will not be in Alan decides to take the day off from work and alongside Yousef, a taxi driver he befriends (Alexander Black), go get a tumor he’s got in his back checked out at the nearest clinic. There he meets Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), who performs a biopsy. Their meet is pregnant with unspoken promise, but Alan is then seen trekking into Mecca and deep into the country alongside Yousef where he gets into a misunderstanding with a local man who takes a flippant comment very seriously.

Where does this all end? It doesn’t matter; the business pitch is more an excuse for Alan’s prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia, but it all works out for the better. If anything, I believe the true story happens when Alan and Zahra’s storylines come progressively closer, and then it all falls into place as Hologram turns into a romance — restrained due to cultural obligations, yes, but a romance nevertheless.

This is a rather gentle comedy that probably won’t make too much noise (it’s already left theaters in New York City and will probably play for the requisite one-week-only engagement throughout the country). Even so, A Hologram for the King is a subtle little movie about one man’s journey to love.