At The End Of A Love Affair (Film Thoughts: Marriage Story)

Marriage-Story-poster-2Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’ is a love story. But it is framed from an opposite point of view, as the film starts with the couple, played by Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson, at the office of a therapist who is counseling them about their uncoupling. What follows next is a film about two people trying to figure out themselves as they go through the process of a divorce, and along the way they find that above all things, they still have an evolving feeling of love for each other.

Written by Noah Baumbach (and apparently based on his experience when he was divorcing actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) the film is sometimes difficult to watch. There are a lot factors here that complicate more than just a separation – there is a distance issue as Johansson’s character Nicole moves to Los Angeles after being cast on a pilot (‘But we are a New York Family,’ Driver’s Charlie says)  And when lawyers got involved in the process, the whole situation turned all shades of ugly, and you can see in the character’s faces that even they themselves do not comprehend what exactly has gone on. The premise may be on the familiar side, but the story is elevated by raw and honest career-best performances from both Driver and Johansson. In my review of ‘Jojo Rabbit,’ I wrote that the latter’s earlier performances have previously left me cold, but here she is as real as it gets. And Driver’s brilliance shouldn’t be a revelation, but there is a scene here where he just slays me – in the middle of a fight, Charlie just breaks down and he – both of them – will break your heart. Every year, I pick my ‘sentimental’ favorite performance, and this year his will be hard to top. And there’s even a cherry on top – one of his memorable scenes is when he sings ‘Being Alive’ from Company. When I first read about this, I had reservation, but it was handled so organically that not only did it make perfect sense, but I would even say that this one of the best uses of a Sondheim song out of a show tune’s context. All in all, though, I am not one hundred percent convinced yet that this will be the film I champion come awards season – it comes off as much too white and straight at times, but there’s no denying this will be on my Top 5 films of the year.

A Funny War (Movie Thoughts: Jojo Rabbit)

jjrSo I have not seen any of the Thor movies (sue me) so I do not really know how much of a big deal the director Taika Waititi can be. But he apparently is a major major force amd he got ‘Jojo Rabbit’ made, which he bills as an ‘anti-hate satire.’  It’s a weird kind of movie, to be sure, a Nazi comedy that I thought it promised to something similar to what Mel Brooks used to do, but it doesn’t really fulfill it. There are some good things in the film, and I wish I was fully satisfied, but my hunger was satiated enough for me to give it a marginal thumbs up.

First of all, Scarlet Johansson. I have soured on her lately, and I wasn’t ever really a big fan of her acting, but she is great here, playing Jojo’s mother, who is quietly doing ‘resistance.’  She tries to hide a young girl in the attic, and when Jojo finds out, is surprised. Aren’t Jews supposed to be devilish monsters, then why is he enamored by this sweet and intelligent young woman? Roman Griffin Davis, who plays Jojo is a great young actor who is able to give ‘wide eyed innocence’ whether he is dealing with two ‘imaginary’ friends – his idol Adolf Hitler and the young girl in the attic. He is able to balance the sweet and the sour effectively.

The film’s tonal changes makes the film weak. at times, I felt like it was trying to abandon ‘satire’ mode and going for melodrama. Just as I was settling in and was into black comedy groove, we see through Jojo’s eyes the sad reality of what war does – when he experiences a major loss, I couldn’t help but be touched by it. All it all, its unevenness can be unnerving, but there’s enough here to admire.