REVIEW: ‘Marriage Story’ reminds us that women will always be held to a higher standard

An iconic scene in the film points out that society will accept absent fathers but never a flawed mother

By Manal Faheem Khan

KARACHI: In the new, acclaimed Netflix original Marriage Story, one of the most important scenes is when Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is being prepped by her lawyer Nora (played by Laura Dern) to answer questions in court regarding the custody of her child, whom she’s fighting to gain following her divorce with Charlie (Adam Driver).

Nora’s assistant is asking questions, such as Nicole’s alcohol consumption and whether she ever gets angry at her child. Nicole answers truthfully (“I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner, sometimes I’ll split the bottle with someone,” she says.) Nora immediately cuts her off and reminds her that there is no need to be so honest, because society will accept an absent father but will never tolerate anything less than a perfect mother.

Pictured: Laura Dern

And that is an important point to raise in a film about a young couple on the verge of divorce, especially since the entire custody battle boils down to which one of them appears to be the better parent. Nicole tries to show the court that her child is better suited to living with her in Los Angeles but Charlie’s legal team tries to show that she’s a bad mother (which she isn’t).

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The entire film isn’t just about this point though; Marriage Story is actually a very relatable tale for anyone who is in a tough marriage or has ended marriage, and thankfully, the film doesn’t sensationalise divorce. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t use dramatic plot twists for the viewer to feel something for the characters. There are no deaths, no miscarriages, no horrible accidents (throwing some shade at films like Revolutionary Road and Rabbit Hole) – it’s just a story about two people who grow apart as the years go by and have different visions for themselves.

Pictured: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver

What’s wonderful is that neither of the two main characters are made out to be villains. While the watching the film, one will find their sympathies wavering with each of the them. You empathise with Nicole when you realise she didn’t make a career or an identity for herself as an actress because she was busy being a wife and a mother but you feel just as terrible when you see that Charlie is on the verge of losing the right to live with his son, a responsibility he enjoys. One also realises how complicated divorce becomes when a child is in the picture. It’s easier for two people to separate from each other but things become ugly because the children always suffer. However, in the film, we see through Charlie’s eye how separating from a child is difficult for the parents too, not just the children.

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Both Johansson and Driver deliver memorable performances, worthy of the award buzz the film has received. It’s a tearjerker but it’s a very real and intimate look at what happens to ordinary marriages over the course of time.


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