Marriage Story (2019)-The Bonds of Love

 

Nominated this year for eleven Academy Awards, Marriage Story portrays  two people who really care about, respect, and love each other, and yearn for  a “gentle” amicable divorce resolution. They also are determined  to nurture and nourish their young son, Henry, with as little wounding as possible.

 Written, directed and produced by Noah Baumbach (of “Squid and the Whale”, another excellent film about divorce), this film eviscerates what happens in even the best-intentioned divorces, reminiscent of  the classic 1979 film “Kramer vs Kramer”. 

Charlie (Adam Driver) is  a very competitive, driven theater director whose wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) has substantially contributed to his recent success. As the leading actress and idea-generator for this theatrical company, Nicole loves witnessing  the accolades and fame Charlie is garnering, including receiving the prestigious MacArthur grant.  (There are parallels to last year’s hit, The Wife, here.)  Until she doesn’t.

Neither character is portrayed as overly narcissistic (although Charlie comes close) but both are flawed.  While the viewer comes to understand and empathize with both of them wanting to pursue their dreams,  we see the character arcs change radically.  The hoped-for amicable divorce proceedings turn very ugly when lawyers get involved. 

This is an emotionally raw journey into trying to figure out how to be an independent adult and survive alone.  It is so grief-stricken in impact that it is as if the viewer’s observing the psychological amputation of the couple’s former selves.

Charlie and Nicole’s  assumptions about each other were lovingly expressed while they were a couple, and are now weaponized.  What they had been fond of in each other’s character, turns into deep wounds and grievances.

The cast is phenomenal. Adam Driver offers a transformative, heartbreaking performance that may surprise many.   Scarlett Johansson is his equal, playing a broken woman who wants the best for her family, but can no longer hope for her marriage to change.  Their performances are as intertwined and nuanced as they are fragmented, and they play  off each other with rarely seen chemistry.

Marriage Story is a delicate dance and dialectic of vertiginous rage and  devastating miscommunication, weaving together themes of loneliness, heartbreak, and regret acutely reflecting the imperfect and painful nature of human relationships.  An unnerving capture of the complexities of character and the dissolution of a marriage between two loving people, Marriage Story will become a classic allegory for us all.


“Chef”–A Recipe for Fun

"Chef"

With an all-star cast, “Chef”  centers on the once-celebrated chef Carl Casper(Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man series),  who is ordered by the owner (Dustin Hoffman) to preserve the status quo: a  predictable menu the customers want.  “No one goes to a Rolling Stone’s concert  not expecting to hear ‘Satisfaction’.”  The boss commands Carl  to play to his strengths, because business is business.  When a famous food critic (the ever-appealing Oliver Platt)  dismisses the menu as tired and yesteryear, the conflict boils over into a confrontational fist-fight, gone viral. Chef Carl’s passion for trendy and innovative food, and his sense of pride, won’t let him stay.

Unsure of how to reclaim his passion for food and maintain an amiable relationship with Inez,  his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara, the sexy star of “Modern Family”) and his young son, Percy (the amazing newcomer Emjay Anthony), he starts a food truck business.   Another ex-husband of  Inez   (Robert Downey Jr. the Iron Man himself), helps finance the food truck for the down-and-out Chef.  Carl’s former restaurant’s hostess (Scarlett Johansson) also encourages him to follow his dream.

What follows is an unorthodox road trip with a fellow restaurant worker, a Cuban American (John Leguizamo,) and the twelve-year old tech-savvy Percy, who videos the fast-food orders of Cuban-style food and tweets so that foodies can find his father’s  food truck’s location (like the famous Kogi truck in LA, a model for this movie!)

The connection of food to family  is truly delicious in its own way.  While “Chef”  is certainly a feast for the senses,  it’s the  theme about restoration– restoring the father-son relationship– and restoring passion–that are the pivotal scenes in this film.

“Chef” is a  familiar recipe  with great ingredients, enjoyable for almost anyone not expecting an “art film”.  An entertaining, humorous movie that hooked this viewer,  “Chef” is hard to resist:  pairing of sumptuous shots of food porn with sensual Latin music.  You can almost smell what’s cooking, and all I could think of was what I was going to eat for dinner afterwards.  This film is more than food porn–it is a recipe for fun!

 

“Her”—A Techno Romance

Her

“Her”, a wistful meditation on where we are and where we might be going in the not-too-distant future, is an inspired film by Spike Jonze who questions how technology will connect or disconnect us.

A lonely recently divorced man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), develops an emotional connection  with his newly purchased operating system —OS Samantha (the dulcet, sexy voice of Scarlett Johansson).  While Twombly doesn’t understand why his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) fell out of love with him—she accuses him of being emotionally distant— OS Samantha seems to have been engineered to meet his every need.  Siri she is not.

Theodore Twombly who suggests “Your past is just a story you tell yourself”, tells himself a fantastical one about his computer. Set in a near-future Los Angeles, Twombly has developed a skill: writing eloquent imaginative letters for strangers — birthday wishes, love notes — but ill-equipped  to communicate with real people or even make eye contact (with the exception of one neighbor played by Amy Adams).  The strengths and failings of  relationships depend on the ability to talk about feelings and for Twombly the only safe environment appears to be with his computer.  He soon finds he is not alone in thinking that.  While she seems to fulfill his fantasy of a perfect relationship,  the more complicated she becomes, the more Twombly pulls away.  In this respect, the movie “Her” is like “Ruby Sparks”(see my review, November 11, 2013)—raising the question: If you could have your dream  of the perfect partner come true, would that bring you happiness?

One of the most provocative and original movies of 2013, “Her” plays with the future and the interface between humans and their machines as well as the problems and pitfalls of communicating feelings in any relationship. “Her” is part romantic comedy, part sci-fi with the brain teaser that falling in love in a cyber-relationship is not as far-fetched as it would have seemed even five years ago. Enjoy, laugh, and then think about how technology can both alleviate and increase a sense of loneliness!