I regret every second I spent watching Noah Baumbach’s latest attempt at being Woody Allen. I should know better by now than to think Noah Baumbach will ever create a film that isn’t tiresome at best. The only thing worse than suffering through a real divorce is watching “Marriage Story.” This movie might portray itself as a romantic comedy, but there isn’t a single laugh to be had. If you take it as a romantic drama, you’ll also be disappointed by virtue of the insufferable couple on display.
Adam Driver’s status as Hollywood’s current it-boy, loses more than a little credibility in a movie more appropriately entitled Divorce Story. Driver plays Baumbach’s alter ego Charlie, a Manhattan off-off Broadway director of avant-garde plays in a theatrical milieu that never existed in New York City. Ding. Baumbach’s ridiculous vision of theater people is pejorative at best. Bedwetters get more love.
Husband Charlie good, wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) bad. During their separation mediation Nicole refuses to read from her list of things she appreciates about Charlie, while he is only too willing to heap praise on his soon-to-be-ex. Nicole storms out of the session so that the therapist and Charlie can, “suck each other’s dicks.” Classy. You wonder why Johansson would sign on for such a thankless role as that of Nicole.
Oh, but for their poor entitled young son Henry (Azhy Robertson). What is to become of the child of frivolous artsy New York parents. Baumbach goes full Woody Allen when he grinds the story into an East Coast vs. West Coast legal tirade about blood-sucking attorneys who milk as much money as possible from the train wreck opportunity before them. Message, Californians are phony, New Yorkers are authentic. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda elevate the movie as the film’s vulture lawyer characters, but to no satisfying design.
The subtext, that Noah Baumbach is a thoughtful auteur whose divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2010 was all her fault, is a tedious bit of dental floss that breaks in this film’s first 10 minutes. If watching people say stuff they will regret for the rest of their lives as they ugly-cry, you might get a kick later on in the movie.
Slack editing delivers us to Adam Driver singing a Broadway-styled melancholy ballad for his New York theatre pals in a cozy restaurant that doesn’t exist anywhere in Manhattan. Oh what inspired feeling, oh what cheesy heart-on-sleeve emotion. Baumbach could have at least cut the movie after the song, and spared his audience 13 minutes of post-divorce child wrangling but that wouldn’t have giving him the opportunity to twist the knife a little more in Scarlett Johansson’s character. Jennifer Jason Leigh will never watch this movie, and neither should she.
Rated R. 137 mins. (F) Zero Stars
Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.