December 19, 2019 – This is the story of the end of a marriage. It starts out as an amicable breakup, no lawyers involved, and then the lawyers get involved and it gets expensive, ugly, funny and messy really fast.
This is the sort of thing you hear about from a distance. You hear how nasty things can get, but until you've been through it, you don't really know. This movie pulls back the cover on the divorce and lets you peek into the emotional and legal process of divorce in a very intimate way. At the same time, the movie also finds humor in the absurdity of the legal and emotional process. It is written and directed by Noah Baumbach, who also directed one of last year's funniest comedies, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”.
This is a movie about movie people made by movie people for movie people, so it ought to do well in those kinds of awards competitions, like the Academy Awards, where movie people vote on movies they like. Also, it is one of the best movies of the year, so there's that going for it, too.
The married couple, soon to be divorced, are kind of like the doomed romantic couple in the movie “Annie Hall.” You've got a New York City guy, a stage actor and director, who is never going to leave that town, married to a woman who would rather live in Los Angeles. The guy, Charlie (Adam Driver of “BlacKkKlansman”) keeps insisting that they are a New York family, but his actress wife, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson of the “Avengers” movies) really wants to get back into her movie and TV career in California that she gave up for her husband.
Nicole, along with the couple's young son, Henry (played by Azhy Robertson of “The Americans”) move to Las Angeles so that Nicole can be in a TV pilot. Charlie has the expectation that this is a temporary move and Nicole and Henry will move back to New York when it is over. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Nicole doesn't want to move back and Henry is also happy in Los Angeles. Nicole's mother, Sandra (Julie Hagerty of “Airplane!”) also lives nearby in Los Angeles.
At first, Charlie tries to spend as much time as he can in Los Angeles so he can spend time with his son, while trying to organize a play on Broadway by phone. That, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a disaster, both in terms of the Broadway play, and his marriage. Yet, he keeps insisting that this is a New York family, when it is not.
Nicole and Charlie both agree on a separation, with no lawyers involved, but Nicole hires a top-notch divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) and Charlie is eventually forced to follow suit, even though he can't afford the fees (close to $1,000 per hour, plus an enormous retainer). His trip to see a divorce lawyer, Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”) is both appalling and hilarious.
Charlie eventually meets with another lawyer, Bert Spitz (played by Alan Alda of “The Aviator”) who is more reasonable, both in terms of advice and fees, but eventually Spitz cannot shield Charlie from the hard facts of this divorce case, and that is his family is no longer a New York family and he is not going to get full custody of his son.
Charlie and Nicole make one last ditch effort to work things out between them by themselves, but that ends in a very ugly and dramatic shouting match which exposes their worst feelings about each other. Eventually, the worst is over and an amicable divorce settlement is reached. Ironically, it seemed like the sort of settlement that Charlie and Nicole could have reached in the first place, emotions aside.
I've seen Scarlett Johansson in a lot of films, but her performance in this film is truly excellent, with a full range of emotions on display. Adam Driver also gives a stunning performance here as a man who truly can't accept the facts about what has happened to his marriage. He is unable to adapt, until he is finally forced to. He needed a court ruling, and Nicole understood that.
If this sounds like a serious movie, it is, but it is also very funny, with some very funny scenes and funny characters. One of the funniest of the comic relief-type characters is the great Wallace Shawn (“My Dinner With Andre”). Shawn plays Frank, a wacky New York stage actor who loves to give people bad advice and tell tall tales about himself and his career.
As I mentioned earlier, the scenes between Charlie and the lawyers are also quite funny at times, because divorce law is so crazy and divisive. The same scenes are also appalling because the desire to “win” a divorce case leads to such emotional and financial damage to the clients. The only winners are the lawyers. This film rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.