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Marriage Story and How a Film Can Make You Pick Sides, Even When There Are None

Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and Azhy Robertson in Marriage Story (2019)

What’s really interesting about Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is that despite how self-aware it is, and how fair it wants to be about this couple going through a divorce, many viewers are choosing sides over who deserves the blame. On social media, judgment and debate and has been raging for days.

We also find out that Charlie cheated on Nicole with a member of their company, because Nicole “stopped having sex with him in the last year” and while it is clear the affair was nothing serious on Charlie’s part, the fact that his mistress is still employed with him says a lot.

Still, Adam Driver, when he’s not Kylo Ren, is a charismatic actor, who makes these sad puppy dog faces that can motivate even the most cynical of us feel pity for his situation (somewhat, anyway). While I was never on Charlie’s side and I think the film itself sees Nicole’s perspective in this, there is something that changes when she hires Laura Dern and we see Nicole actually advocating for herself and her desires rather than just going along with the tempo that Charlie is setting.

When Nicole moves back to live with her mother in L.A. with the couple’s son, Henry, the move is intended for a test run for California to become a more permanent place in their lives. Henry ends up loving L.A., makes new friends, and gets to bond with his cousins who are the same age. Yet Charlie still thinks this is temporary even though Nicole also moved in order to film a pilot that would be potentially picked up for series.

Charlie is forced, through the legal system, to really acknowledge that his life is going to change now as he must actually compromise. He may insist that they are a New York family, but if they want to stay in L.A. then that is no longer the case. It is frustrating that he has to rent apartments on both coasts and that he is becoming more distant from his kid, but you can also see that he put himself in that situation because he didn’t listen for a big chunk of their relationship. It is a chickens coming home to roost situation for him and I have empathy, but I’m not exactly crying with him when he has his big monologue.

It is also especially jarring seeing that some people on social media hate Nicole for hiring a lawyer when it is clear that she has felt railroaded throughout their entire marriage. As some have pointed out, if we’re picking sides, we may have missed the point. I may not be a child of divorce, but I know that divorce, even when it’s amicable, is not easy when it comes to carving out clear lines and boundaries between two people who once shared everything. Especially when a young child is involved.

While there are moments of “selfishness” from Nicole it is not malicious, she is trying to find the person she was again without her husband of ten years. Trying to advocate for her needs and wants, and that isn’t easy. And the reason it hits Charlie so hard is that he’s used to her being flexible to his whims.

Well not anymore.

(image: Netflix)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.