Noah Baumbach's tearjerker and Best Picture Academy Award nominated Marriage Story tells the painful story of the dissolution of a marriage. Baumbach cleverly reveals Nicole's (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie's (Adam Driver) marriage story by depicting their divorce story. We join them as things are falling apart, and as it crumbles further, we gain a greater understanding of how these two people have always loved each other, and always will, but how sometimes that's just not enough.
The film has stuck with me because it has so much empathy for Charlie and Nicole. Neither is painted as a villain, because Baumbach seems to understand that love is too complicated for trite designations like that. Instead, we're given two flawed people whose wounds and heartache and selfishness and everything else that weakens their marriage will prevent them from going the distance. There is no winner or loser. It's just crushingly sad, and our hearts ache for both Charlie and Nicole, and of course for their son Henry.
At some point I'd like to explore why I think Marriage Story is one of—if not the best—films of 2019, but that'll take some time to compose. For now, I'm just here to celebrate the wonderful performance by Adam Driver as Charlie, and to list a few reasons why I find the character so eerily relatable. We share several similarities. Some superficial while others emotionally resonant, some flattering and others not. Our situations are not the same (thank goodness, for me), but I found myself recognizing parts of me in Charlie all too often as I watched him struggle to find his footing in this new normal. So, here are eight of those times.
"He disappears into his own world. He and Henry are alike that way."
The film opens with Johansson and Driver reading their respective letters to one another—written at the request, we soon learn, of their mediator. Both letters are filled with what they love about each other, while not shying away from exploring each other's complex personality traits, as well. This line, about living inside one's own world, hit me like a ton of bricks because that is completely me. Always has been. I get lost in my own world, which cannot be easy for my wife sometimes, or for anyone who might be needing me to be emotionally attentive in that moment. But it also means I'm always thinking, processing, or creating in my mind, none of which are bad things. Our son is only five, but I can already see he's inherited this trait from his dad. So, when Nicole describes Charlie and Henry, I can't help but feel that it's also an apt description of me and my son.
Charlie's reaction shots are so me it's scary.
I don't have a poker face. Never have, never will. Neither does Charlie. We're often reserved, so it might seem we're masking something, but ultimately our frustration will slip out, often in the form of a half-smile conveying bemused frustration.
Our clothing style and hair choice are very similar.
The button-down shirt under a sweater look is a mainstay of both our wardrobes, not to mention the casual blazer as well. Occasionally rumpled, but that's part of the charm of the look, right? Or so I'm told.
We eat pizza the same way—in other words, we inhale it like it's our last meal.
The interesting thing is I'm an only child, so it's not as if I grew up having to take my share before someone else snagged it from me. I just love food, and especially pizza.
Charlie's lip tremble while crying is also my signature crying move.
I mean, it's trembling right now as I watch this GIF! That moment, when Charlie's finally reading Nicole's letter about him, is one of Driver's very best in the film. When he reflexively chokes up, mid-sentence, during "I fell in love with him two seconds after I saw him," I turn into a blubbering mess. Driver's work here is, in a word, powerful.
People always want to touch our hair.
It's true though. And neither of us are into it, so stop it.
Sometimes we each say things, in the heat of the moment, that we don't mean.
Late in the film, Charlie and Nicole finally have the massive blowup that's been simmering just below the surface, a natural consequence of the enormous stress of divorce proceedings. And when they do, it's an epic fight, thanks in no small part to Johannson's and Driver's total commitment to the scene. The shouting escalates, with each character hurling hurtful—but mostly true—insults at each other, until finally Charlie explodes, "Every day I wake up, and I wish you were dead!" It's a jaw-dropping moment—"Did he really just say that," you ask yourself? Yes, he did, but it's not surprising, given the tremendous strain, that one or both of them would say things they would never say in any other circumstance. While I've never said that in a heated argument with a loved one, I have said other things that, as the words spat out of my mouth, I immediately regretted.
And when we realize what we've said, we fall apart.
Hit with sudden, powerful regret, Charlie quickly transitions into uncontrollable, sobbing grief. He apologizes, and collapses to the ground, where Nicole stands over him, cradling his head, gently while he wraps his arms around her legs. For that instant we remember these are two people with a deep, abiding love for one another. They're breaking up, but they're never going to stop loving each other. Once again I've felt Charlie's pain, that instant regret, after having said something so awful (not as awful as wishing death on someone, I must add, but still) that I'm shocked at my capacity to hurt someone, even someone I love. I don't think there's a person alive who hasn't made cutting, or truly mean, remarks to a loved one. We're only human, after all, and the pain and anger we feel in situations like this are intensified tenfold when the person we're arguing with is someone we've loved for so long. That's one of the strange but true absolutes in life: we're more likely to say terrible things to our loved ones than anyone else. Maybe it's the comfort and rapport we share, which leads to such unfiltered honesty.
Marriage Story is nominated for several Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Adam Driver. I'll be rooting for the film as I watch on February 9, and especially for Driver. He's been incredible in most everything he's done up to this point, but I think this will stand as his best work for a while, at least. As written by Baumbach and performed by Driver, there's a lot for me to relate to in Charlie, flaws and all. Flaws, after all, are an inherent ingredient to the human condition. It's about how we work through and past those flaws that counts. Most of us, if we're being honest, can relate to all too well to the strengths and weakness in Nicole and Charlie. That's why Marriage Story will always resonate with audiences willing to share in the film's extreme empathy for this human condition with which we're all afflicted.