"Marriage Story"

Scarlett Johannson (left) and Adam Driver star in “Marriage Story.”

Relationships can be messy. There’s no rule book to follow, and no two relationships are the same. The same goes for marriage. While two people may legally pledge to love each other forever, as with most things in life, there’s no guarantee. Things can be even messier when children are involved.

In “Marriage Story,” a new Netflix original that debuted Dec. 6, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson star as Charlie and Nicole, a couple who has reached the end of their marriage. But, the two can’t just sign paperwork and walk away from each other because at the heart of their relationship is their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson).

Charlie is a theater director in New York, and Nicole has been his star for years. Nicole is a former teen movie star whose heart — and the rest of her family — are in Los Angeles. But, they began their family in New York and it’s where they’ve stayed.

Things go south when Nicole gets a role in a TV pilot in L.A. The problems they’ve buried are thrown to the forefront when she decides she wants to stay in L.A, but Charlie wants to stay in New York.

Granted, all of this happens before the film ever begins. In fact, our first introduction to Charlie and Nicole is through a mediation exercise as they begin the process of separation and, ultimately, divorce.

You see, we don’t see the “boy-meets-girl” backstory. Not really. We hear about how they met, and we hear about how things started to go south, but most of that is from Nicole’s point of view. We hear how she was living her life for Charlie but never managed to live for herself. She wants a new life, and she wants it to be in L.A.

The film is divided into two stories, so to speak, but then aren’t most relationships? We hear a lot from Nicole on what went wrong with the relationship and why they’ve gone their separate ways. On Charlie’s side, we see his struggle to figure out how or why this is happening. He’s going to lose his son, and he doesn’t know how to stop it.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say the film tries to get you to pick a side. We learn Charlie cheated on Nicole. We learn Nicole isn’t the best at adulting, shutting cabinets or doing other chores. But, she listens, and she plays with Henry endlessly. And, we learn that Charlie adores being a parent, and he’s amazing at it.

There’s a strong supporting cast here, too. Nicole enlists the help of high-powered attorney Nora Fenshaw (Laura Dern), while Charles struggles to find a lawyer of his own, visiting Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) and Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta). After all, the battle lines are drawn, and Charlie and Nicole need all the help they can get. Nicole’s family, mom Sandra (Julie Hagerty) and sister Cassie (Merritt Wever) lend memorable performances, too.

Back in 1979, “Kramer vs. Kramer” gave us a portrayal of another marriage falling apart and an ugly battle for custody. The film, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, won five Oscars, including the top prize as well as awards for the two leads and the film’s director, Robert Benton.

I’d like to say that “Marriage Story” is going to have that kind of impact and be a film someone references 30 years down the road. It’s not a bad film, and it’s raw, ugly and, at times, moving. Driver and Johannson both put forth powerful performances, but there’s a disconnect. At least, there was for me.

While there are strong individual performances, the story itself and ultimately, the film feels forgettable. That’s not to discount Driver, Johannson or any of the other actors, but while the story may have an emotional tornado at its center, it just didn’t have the gravitas I expected.

As a child of divorce, I suppose the film should have packed a wallop, but I just couldn’t find myself lost in the story. There’s an emotional distance that these characters and this narrative have, maybe mirroring how this couple has become disconnected. I’d like to give this film the benefit of the doubt, as there’s ample evidence it is attempting to connect and resonate with viewers, but I’m afraid this is one story I was happy to see end.

Amanda Greever is a former editor, designer and writer at The Daily Times. She now works in public relations. Contact her at amandagreever@gmail.com.

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