Marriage Story

I never want to get divorced again.

This would be better tomorrow, when my mood stabilizes. But that’s not how life works, it comes at you unexpectedly, the twists and turns…the older you get the more you realize you can’t plan for anything. Oh, you can plan, but it never turns out that way, something always derails your desire. Life is full of potholes. And one of the deepest is relationships.

Which also come with their highs. You know the moment, when you’re falling in love. Some people can’t resist that, they go from person to person, never wanting to get deep. Some can’t get deep. Some are just afraid to. But it’s when you plow down through the layers, that you feel most alive.

Now this movie was made by Netflix, although it played in theatres first, for a brief while anyway. You see instead of allowing streaming to take its own course, the film industry, mostly the Academy, i.e. the Oscars, wants to stay in the past, kind of like a marriage that is dying, you’re going down the track and nothing can stop the train.

They keep tweaking the rules, trying to get youngsters involved. They expanded the number of Best Picture nominees, trying to rope in the superhero faction, but the ratings keep dropping, and the best pictures go unseen.

But not anymore.

The studios want to protect their windows. Kind of like how the record companies wanted to protect their retailers. Look how that worked out, all the retailers died. You see it’s hard to impose an old model on a new paradigm, i.e. the internet. We live in an on demand culture, we want everything at our fingertips, and if it’s not…

We ignore it.

That’s the dirty little secret the entertainment industry doesn’t want acknowledged, how much of their product goes straight into the dumper. Only a few things truly succeed, and now with the tsunami of offerings, you can’t look back to what played in theatres months ago, years ago, you want to stay current, even though today’s human condition is to always feel behind and out of it, unless you’re fooling yourself.

So, after a very brief window, “Marriage Story” has appeared on Netflix. If you’ve got an account, you know, it’s featured up front and personal on the home screen. This is the most valuable real estate in visual entertainment. They used to talk about endcaps in record retail, talk about the marketing dollars spent to advertise a movie, now all that is superseded, we can all know about something right away, left and right, Democrat and Republican, we can all be united by art.

And there’s more truth in this movie than anything in D.C.

Maybe you’ve never been married. Maybe you’ve never been divorced. But when you stand in front of family and friends and say “I Do,” when it’s over you get a feeling, a pit in your stomach, as if you failed the final and didn’t graduate from college.

Oh, you cannot see this coming. Word on the street is divorce is painless…

But it’s not.

So Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are married. Happily. With a child. It starts this way, and then over the years…one partner becomes unhappy, even though the other usually doesn’t know about it. What did Esther Perel say? In every marriage there’s one person looking to leave and another who thinks everything is okay.

Adam Driver thinks everything’s okay.

He’s self-made, a known figure in the avant-garde theatre world of New York City.

But Scarlet Johansson feels suffocated, unacknowledged. She thinks she sent this message, but if she did it was subtly, and Adam Driver didn’t get it.

So Scarlett moves to L.A.

Yup, that’s a constant theme in the movie, west coast versus east coast. And the truth is in today’s less than mobile society, where people cannot afford to pack up and move, the only people who’ve experienced this are entertainers and fat cat business people.

In L.A. you’ve got space.

In New York you’ve got feelings, it’s about the interior as opposed to the exterior.

In New York, theatre is paramount.

In L.A., it’s movies.

New Yorkers think they’re superior.

Angelenos don’t care.

Now the promotion may have made you aware of Laura Dern’s spectacular performance as a high-paid divorce lawyer, but print cannot do justice. Dern encapsulates the jive, rich, friendly but cutthroat women in this role. And Ray Liotta’s performance as her counterpart is great too.

Yup, the attorneys are friendly, it’s all just grist for the mill. Meanwhile, their clients are ground down to nothing.

How do you break up a marriage? Their family was your family, it was all kumbaya, and now it’s not.

And you hate each other but still love each other. You want to see the other person dead but there’s no one you feel closer to.

Yes, the acting is great, Julie Hagerty reclaims her intellect from too many doofus roles. Merritt Wever always shines. And Alan Alda…encapsulates the discarded but wise in this case attorney. Yup, they squeeze you out, you’re too old, you’re not producing, but your talent and experience are undeniable.

But too often unacknowledged.

Now we used to go to the theatre for experiences like this. You know, the movie theatre, with its darkness and sticky floors and no interruptions, other than the talkers, and this is a film where the talkers will bug you.

But just like the symphony, and the opera, independent film has been kept alive by the oldsters, who’ve all decided it’s just too much effort to go to the theatre when there’s a cornucopia of entertainment at your fingertips and you don’t have to hassle to get it.

Of course there are those who still swear by the experience, but the truth is independent grosses have tanked. And they’re not going back up.

Meanwhile, the world is topsy-turvy. Mainstream movies are cartoons, and the essence of life is on television.

Now I don’t think I’ve conveyed the elements of this movie fully. On one hand, I don’t want to. On the other, I want to implore you to watch it.

Sure, it’s two hours and sixteen minutes long, but you won’t be able to turn it off, because even if you can’t reveal your inner feelings, they’re in this movie, it reflects real life, which as I said is not in mainstream movies and not in music either. We’re beholden to the surface. Express your feelings and you’re branded a loser. You’re supposed to be a winner. But you just can’t stop talking about the breakup, even though they’re never coming back and your friends are sick of hearing you talk about it.

You see what you shared was just between the two of you.

And when Adam Driver sings Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive,” the lyrics resonate, that’s what we’re all looking for in relationships, someone who gets us, someone who supports us, someone to experience life with, someone to heighten our senses and watch the movie of life with.

And the truth is everybody’s unhappy. At best people complete each other. She’s sloppy, he’s neat. But no matter how much he bugs her, she’ll never be neat.

And you’ll never truly be a member of her family. They circle the wagons after the defeat, you’re left alone, an outsider. All your hopes and dreams come to a halt. You thought you were cruising on all cylinders, then you were blindsided. Suddenly, all that you thought was important is not.

Now the seeker…frequently does not find what he or she is looking for.

And the one pining for stability…is oftentimes in the same spot.

I’m not talking about drugs and physical abuse, I’m talking about those who get along and then someone pulls the ripcord.

We all want to get what we’re looking for. We all want to be understood, we all want to win. But the truth is even if we gain career victories, they often leave us hollow. Turns out everyday life is the reward, the most invigorating and satisfying victory, but if you don’t have that totem of success, you somehow feel less than.

Insecurity, it sidelines the best of us. We think we’re putting up a good face, but the truth is most people can tell it’s fake. You want to just be yourself, but deep down you believe yourself is just not good enough.

Society will mess with you. Might even ruin your life. And in the end, most people find they have not found what they are looking for.

So what to do?

Experience art, that contains truth. I’m not talking about escape, but resonance. When you see yourself in a movie or book or record, you no longer feel so alone.

So I can’t tell you about awards, but in truth they’re bogus.

But great art affects you, leaves you off-kilter when it ends.

I’m messed up now that “Marriage Story” is over.

This is not “The Irishman,” this is not gloss, this is not another world, this is you, your essence, your life, can you handle it?

You know you want to.

So fire up Netflix and watch “Marriage Story,” if for no other reason than when it’s finished you too can weigh in on its merits, or lack thereof. Yup, now that it’s on Netflix, essentially available to everyone, during the holiday season, you can go places and discuss it.

And that’s what makes you feel alive, the human interaction, the weaving of opinions and stories.

That’s what you’ll find in “Marriage Story,” but just like in real life, it doesn’t always work out.

But you do your best to soldier on. Keep looking. Lick your wounds, but if you hang in there long enough, things will start to turn.

Assuming you’ve got a support network, maybe a therapist.

But too many are alone and too many have little cash.

Well, at least you can watch “Marriage Story” and know you’re not the only one.

We’re all alike under the skin, it’s just that the winners don’t want to be seen as ordinary and the hoi polloi are told they’re inadequate.

Then again, I wish I could make art as great as Noah Baumbach’s.

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