Shouldn’t “Marriage Story” be called The Divorce Story?

There are certain filmmakers whose upcoming work fills me anticipation. Then there’s filmmakers like Noah Baumbach. He has a large body of work as a writer, director and producer with films such as Frances Ha, Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale. On the one hand, I admire how he features strong women as characters in his film. I want to like his films. His work features fraught family relationships and people on the verge of emotional breakdowns. It feels like watching a car crash. For someone like me, who feels great empathy for the characters on the screen, it can feel like BEING in a car crash.

Marriage Story is getting great critical acclaim for the performances of Scarlett Johanssan and Adam Driver. Both the trailers and the opening scenes of the film use a wonderful story technique of introducing the characters describing their partners good qualities. Opening the film with the warm glow of the character’s love before dropping the audience into the divorce already in progeess gives the film a strong start. What begins as an agreement for an amicable separation, becomes a strident battle of lawyers and devastating emotional drama.

Laura Dern, played with calculation and phony warmth, is the barracuda divorce lawyer going for the jugular. Most of the characters rang false to me. Johansson’s mother in her bad haircut rewards her son for defecating and spending time with his father, and displays a childlike gesture to beg for hugs. Every character trait is exaggerated. She’s shown cutting everyone’s hair and yet, their hair seems the same. I found myself disliking all of the characters, even the little boy who seems to be manipulating his parents with requests for toys.

Yes, Adam Driver is great in his emotional moments and portrayal of a clueless theatrical “genius”. Did we need to sit through an entire song to understand his loss? I think that uncomfortable moments that some people find amusing, I find painful. The film felt too long, too caustic and too unrealistic.

Drinks With Films rating: 2 strong bourbons to blunt the emotional pain (out of 5)

“This Is Where I leave You” — with siblings like these, who needs enemies?!

Siblings — really?

With a cast that looks so unlike siblings and a story that crams all kinds of dysfunction on one family, director Shawn Levy is asking for some serious suspension of disbelief.  I liked This Is Where I Leave You but more because I enjoyed spending time with these actors in these performances — not necessarily because I was moved by the film.

“It’s hard to make a personal film based on your own experience,” Thom Andersen warns in Los Angeles Plays Itself, “when you’re absurdly over-privileged. You tend not to notice the less fortunate, and that’s almost everybody.” No kidding. Levy has so little interest in anybody other than his comfortably rich that the world of the film doesn’t feel properly populated: There aren’t even service-industry workers on the periphery. (This probably goes without saying, but there isn’t a single black face on the screen.) Exclusivity of this kind is not inherently bad. But it does betray the movie’s foundational problem: It is oblivious to life as anyone really lives it. Early on in This Is Where I Leave You, Bateman slumps teary-eyed into a burnished-oak chair in the middle of his preposterously oversized New York apartment. Levy has the gall to slather on a bit of sad-sack piano — minor chords. Come on. You cannot play minor chords in digs that nice.  Westword Review

I did not really notice the privileged upper-crust environment except for the cars.  I think I’ve grown used to the wealthy families that often populate the big screen.  The absurdity of the situation: a dysfunctional bunch of siblings forced to share the family home for an extended period of time was a good plot device.  If some of the situations weren’t believable; the acting was always enjoyable.  Who wouldn’t mind spending time with Tina Fey, Jason Bateman or the particularly charming, Adam Driver?  Jane Fonda was a crack-up and it was nice to see supporting characters like Rose ByrneCorey Stoll and Kathryn Hahn.  Growing up in a big family, the interactions and petty jealousy that build up over time felt real.  Your siblings can be our biggest supporters and your worst enemies…no matter what car is parked in the driveway!

Rating: 4 shots of tequila to heal old wounds

Bechdel rating: passes.  Even an acknowledgement that older women have sex drives and a wife who has adulterous sex but isn’t punished for it!