Ever been married? Are you planning on getting married? Are you married NOW? Yeah, maybe you better watch a nice comedy instead of this heartbreaking and gut-wrenching movie of one couple’s disintegrating marriage. Looks like Black Widow and Kylo Ren need to consult Yoda instead of a counselor!
Ripped from the pages of writer/director Noah Baumbach’s own personal bitter divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, we first witness the married couple of Charlie and Nicole Barber (Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson) in therapy, but it’s not going well. At all. We see in flashbacks that this NYC pair used to be happy: Charlie, a successful theater director in the Big Apple and Nicole, a once-rising movie star, who now ‘trods the boards’ under Charlie’s tutelage. With their little boy, Henry (Azhy Robertson), they led a nice life… until things went downhill.
Nicole takes a lucrative offer in Hollywood for a TV pilot, and lives with her quirky mother (Julie Hagerty) while the divorce procedures start, much to the dismay of Charlie who, not only must negotiate the tricky (and expensive) bi-coastal ping-ponging of his work, but must find a divorce lawyer for himself in California, not New York, if he wants to keep his kid. While Nicole has whip-smart attorney Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), Charlie first chooses cut-throat and high-priced Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), but settles for lesser-priced Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), who’s older and wiser.
But Charlie has NO idea what’s in store for him as the expenses pile up, his stress level increases, which leads to the movies signature third act fight scene. Starting out calm, cool, and collected, Charlie & Nicole try and reconcile the divorce themselves, after their lawyers wage an unholy war at each other in court (another emotionally charged scene). But what starts out as calm soon escalates into a devastating, no-holds-barred, accusatory scream-fest where nothing is held back. Words are said and the two are left emotionally scarred. You can’t watch this scene and not feel moved.
This movie is one long emotional roller-coaster and, truth be told, there were times I really wanted to switch over to something else (I saw it on Netflix). This is a fictional story, yes, but played SO real and SO close to the bone, you feel uneasy, attached to the characters, and even painful to watch at times. Thank God there ARE some moments of humor thrown in here and there for breathing room or one might just grab a razor blade and call it a night. Baumbach, (The Squid and the Whale) knows a thing or two about drama and, when writing this script, culled stories, events, and incidents from all his actors and their divorces and/or marriages to set the right tone. In fact, Driver suggested that he be a theater director because of his love of theater!
Check out Johansson’s one-take, unbroken 4min, 20sec monologue talking about her life, Driver’s unnerving display of confusion when he’s told about what he has to do to win custody of his son, and the couple trying SO HARD to remain civil to each other when you can see that, at any moment, one of them could explode in anger. Liotta, Dern, and Alda are all excellent as well. A great screenplay, direction, and finite acting is in store for you… if you can sit through this. Already this movie has major buzz about it for tons of awards, and I smell Oscars for Driver & Johansson. If you want to see this movie, be forewarned: it’s gonna leave an impact.
**Currently streaming on Netflix and in selected theaters