Marriage Story Parent Guide
Overlong, stuffed with profanity, and featuring entitled, selfish, self-absorbed characters, this is a film best watched at home so you can fall asleep on your own couch.
Parent Movie Review
Your opinion of Marriage Story will depend almost entirely on your perspective on marriage. If you believe in the “expressive marriage” in which marriage is a mutual contract to provide happiness, growth, and self-actualization for both parties, then you might also support the concept of the “expressive divorce” in which divorce is used to liberate oneself from a marriage that has failed to deliver its promises. In Marriage Story, divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) articulates this philosophy when speaking with her anxious client, Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson): “What you’re doing is an act of hope. You’re saying ‘I want something better for myself.” But if you believe that marriage is greater than the sum of its parts; that spouses have an obligation to their children and to each other to prioritize fixing their own flaws over criticizing their partners’ shortcomings, Marriage Story is going to be 137 minutes of frustration.
The movie begins hopefully, with Nicole and her husband, Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) in voice over, describing each other in glowing terms. It’s a bit of a shock when the camera focuses in on the couple, only to discover that this summary of positive traits is a counseling exercise for the separating, soon-to-divorce couple. Sadly, it doesn’t encourage constructive communication and Nicole heads off to Los Angeles with their son to star in a TV show, leaving her director husband in New York, running his theater company. From there, the relationship devolves from “we can work it out ourselves and we’ll stay friends” to getting lawyered up and fighting dirty.
Marriage Story is not a pleasant movie to watch. Nicole and Charlie are both so entitled, so selfish, and so self-absorbed that it can be hard to root for either of them. But the real villains of the tale are clearly the lawyers. When Nicole objects to some of her lawyer’s tactics, Nora tells her, “This system rewards bad behavior.” So two people who once loved each other and hoped to remain friends, weaponize their memories and pay lawyers to hurt each other, while draining their bank accounts. The Barbers’ broken marriage is only a small cog in the toxically broken family law system.
Not only is Marriage Story both sad and unpleasant to watch, it also has significant content issues, with profanity at the forefront. There are six dozen swear words and coarse sexual expressions in the movie, including three dozen sexual expletives. One of those “f-words” is used in the context of the conception of Jesus and will be extremely offensive to Christian viewers.
Whether or not the profanity offends all moviegoers, many will be annoyed by the poor pacing and sometimes overplayed lines. And with its excessive run time, there’s lots of time for squirming in your seat, checking your watch, and wishing you hadn’t finished your popcorn in the first half of the show.
Early on in the film, Charlie briefly retains a jaded old lawyer played with world weary wisdom by Alan Alda. The lawyer says, “Getting divorced with a kid is one of the hardest things to do. It’s like a death without a body.” But in this case, there is a body – this film is dead on arrival.Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda. Running time: 137 minutes. Updated August 20, 2021
Watch the trailer for Marriage Story
Rating & Content Info
Why is Marriage Story rated R? Marriage Story is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout and sexual references.
Violence: A divorcing couple yells at one another on a few occasions, including uttering wishes that the other person would die. A main character accidentally cuts his arm with a knife and collapses on the floor.
Sexual Content: There is mention of an extramarital affair. A man encourages another man to be sexually promiscuous. A woman makes out with a man in a vehicle and instructs him about specific sexual activities that we can’t mention on a family website. A woman mentions her dead gay husband and a story is told of her walking in on him in the midst of sexual activity with another man; a slang term is used for the act. A man mentions having two mothers.
Profanity: There are approximately six dozen uses of profanity and coarse language, including 37 sexual expletives, 12 scatological curses, nine terms of deity, assorted anatomical terms, and various mild and moderate swear words.
Alcohol / Drug Use: People drink alcohol at social events and at home. A main character says she’s had a bit too much to drink but she doesn’t look drunk. A main character smokes a cigarette briefly. A main character makes a brief reference to past casual drug use.
Page last updated August 20, 2021
Marriage Story Parents' Guide
What is your paradigm for marriage? What do you think are the purposes of marriage?
The New York Times: The All-or-Nothing Marriage
The New York Times: Three Views of Marriage
The Gottman Institute: Seriously. What’s the Point of Marriage?
Related home video titles:
Divorce is a topic frequently covered in movies. In Enough Said, a divorced woman re-enters the dating game.
Mrs. Doubtfire stars Robin Williams as a divorced dad who dresses up as an elderly woman so he can be hired as the housekeeper/nanny and continue to see his children.
Julia Roberts stars as Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love. Bored with her life, Liz divorces her husband and goes globe-trotting to find what she really wants.
If you’d rather watch movies about people who make marriage work, we have some suggestions. In A United Kingdom, Ruth Wilson and Seretse Khama keep their marriage strong despite the attempts of the British government to end their relationship. Tragedy strikes in Breathe when Robin Cavendish is paralyzed by polio. But his pregnant wife refuses to give up and makes it possible for him to make a significant contribution to the world. In Shadowlands, famous author C.S. Lewis marries a friend for immigration reasons, only to realize how much he loves her when she becomes ill.