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Marriage Story

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Marriage Story Movie Poster Image
All-too-real divorce drama isn't kid stuff; strong language.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 136 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

During a divorce, parents are conscientious about keeping the family intact.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The splitting spouses are both decent people who want different things; this is more of a character study on why divorces get ugly. They strive to make good choices in emotionally difficult situations, although how they could do better is worth discussing.

Violence

A divorcing couple gets into a heated argument; a wall takes a punch. An accidental wound (from a weapon) is bloody.

Sex

Explicit language used to describe a sex act. A couple makes out. References to infidelity.

Language

Extremely strong, frequent profanity throughout, especially various versions of "f--k." Other strong language includes "ass," "blow," "a--hole," "bitch," "d--k," "goddamn," "s--t," "slut," "t-ts." 

Consumerism

Brands/products seen or mentioned include a Whole Foods grocery bag, an Apple laptop, an iPad, Lego, Monopoly, Scrabble, Nissan Versa, and a Graco booster seat.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character smokes a cigarette. Frequent social drinking; discussion of whether one character drinks too much. Mention of drug use by glamorous character.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that writer/director Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is a drama that could be considered a "divorce procedural." It specifically explores how the legal system distorts the good intentions of a couple trying to end their marriage amicably. Despite their personal tension -- and one epic argument during which a fist goes through a wall -- Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) continually try to do what's best for their 8-year-old son. The movie is really all about about how divorce affects parents' relationship with their child(ren). Expect extremely strong language; the whole family, including the son, curses a lot ("f--k," "s--t," and many more), and explicit language is used to describe a sex act. Adults also do a lot of drinking, mostly in social situations, and Charlie smokes.

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What's the story?

In MARRIAGE STORY, Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) decides to end her decade-long marriage to Charlie (Adam Driver). The New York-based couple plans to divorce with as little drama, expense, and disruption as possible. But when Nicole gets a big job opportunity in Los Angeles, custody of their 8-year-old son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), increases the stakes of their split.

Is it any good?

Writer-director Noah Baumbach brings the pain of the divorce process to the screen in a drama that's phenomenally crafted but is more of a solitary experience than one to be shared. It's hard to imagine what pair of people would choose to see this movie together. Married couple? Uncomfortable. Friends? Evening killer. Couple on a date? Awkward. A sibling going through a divorce? Bring a mop and a wheelbarrow to clean up the emotional mess. Divorce "survivors" will find that every frame hits home: the raw emotions, getting sucked down the legal system's financial hole, and the lawyers who make everything so much worse. The story feels authentically personal -- which makes sense, as it's based on Baumbach's own 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The performances in Marriage Story will knock your socks off, including all of the supporting cast: Julie Hagerty as Nicole's mom, who doesn't want to stop loving her ex-son-in-law; Wallace Shawn as the puffed-up stage star reminding everyone of his glory days; and Laura Dern as an artificially empathetic divorce attorney who's all hugs and fangs. But what everyone will end the movie thinking about is the power, vulnerability, and expressiveness of Driver and Johansson's performances. Given their presence (Kylo Ren and Black Widow!), some kids may be interested in watching, but it's not for them, they won't like it, and it could negatively impact their view of marriage. So, who is the perfect movie buddy to watch with? Maybe your adult child who's about to marry Mr. or Ms. Wrong. Rename this one The Squid and the Cautionary Tale.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about their views on divorce. Is it possible for parents to separate but still remain a family? How does divorce affect kids? Parents? How is divorce typically depicted in the media?

  • Discuss the role of communication in a successful relationship. Could Nicole and Charlie have communicated better to avoid splitting up in Marriage Story, or would it have mattered?

  • Do you feel empathy for Charlie and Nicole? Why? If not, how does the course of the film change your feelings toward them? Considering that this is a semi-autobiographical story from Baumbach, do you think both sides are depicted fairly?

Movie details

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