Scarlett Johansson Adam Driver Laura Dern Ray Liotta Alan Alda
Azhy Robertson Julie Hagerty Merritt Wever
A heartbreaking story—but not so much that a couple’s paths in life take them in different directions—but that their whole separation becomes contaminated by external factors. Geographical separation is commonplace in families nowadays, and is one of the factors in couples’ not being easily able to maintain an intimate relationship, especially when husband-wife careers’ pull them in different directions. Nevertheless, upsets could be worked out amicably between the two parties, but so often third parties intervene in ways that are damaging.
For example, Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) are enjoying their marriage and professional collaboration in New York when she gets an offer for and accepts a starring role in a television pilot in Los Angeles. That is where she is from and where her family is, and so she has always wanted to return. Charlie gives lip service to her desires, but his career is taking off in New York, so he figures that she will go “do her thing” for a while, then return with their son Henry (Robertson), who has gone with her. She kind of thinks this too; however, while she is there she begins to think about her marriage, and comes to feel that Charlie dominates her life too much.
She then takes a fateful step in engaging canny lawyer, sharpshooter Nora (Dern) who is expert in pulling Nicole into her web, reinforcing her reservations about Charlie and working hard to exploit the case to the fullest extent (of her bill, of course). This will set the ball rolling so that it will no longer be Nicole and Charlie working out their own solutions, but a legal battle between Fanshaw and Charlie’s attorneys, first Bert Spitz (Alda) and later when the going gets rough, Jay (Liotta).
Writer-director Noah Baumbach knows very well of what he speaks. The story is loosely based on his own separation from Jennifer Jason Leigh, his first wife, who apparently approves of this production. (Baumbach is now with Greta Gerwig, director of Lady Bird and Little Women). He is to be praised for a valiant attempt to present both sides of the contentious splintering in a fairly objective way. As presented, though, I had more sympathy for Charlie than for Nicole; but that may be partly because Nicole’s position and actions are not as well articulated, such that we don’t feel for her as much as we do for Charlie. Except in the last court scene, she is not “rained on” by the lawyers as much as Charlie is.
The two leads, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, are fundamental in telling this story. They give such seamless, authentic representations of their characters the film looks almost like a documentary. Laura Dern as a lawyer is brilliant in capturing the persona of someone who knows how to beguile while delivering cutthroat blows. Alan Alda, but more especially Ray Liotta, as Charlie’s lawyers are very good, but do have lines that match the lethality of Fanshaw. Julie Hagerty and Merritt Weaver as Scarlett’s mother and sister provide some great hilarity to offset the heavy drama.
Painful, hard truths and emotional ups and downs in this film will move you deeply, and for those who have gone through a divorce it will bring sharp remembrances.