Much fuss has been made over Noah Baumbach’s very okay movie, Marriage Story. It’s already getting Oscar buzz, and stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are nominated for Golden Globes for their scream-laden performances, which include Driver talk-singing a show tune at a bar. But the real stars of this film are the three homes that function as crucial set pieces for showing instead of telling the degrees of divorce in progress. This movie isn’t really about people and what happens to them during a divorce; it’s about what happens to their stuff.
The most important of their material possessions is their Brooklyn apartment, shown in the first few minutes of the movie. Of all the New York spaces depicted in the film, most of which are probably located in some gentrified part of Brooklyn, the Marriage Story apartment is the best. It boasts two bedrooms, a palatial amount of space for anyone renting in New York, and a large sunken living room perfect for entertaining or hovering over a partner while they criticize you to shreds. The living room is also ideal for displaying a collection of books so vast guests will be in awe of how much time the tenants have to read. Or they may wonder how anyone can afford so many books while still paying rent in what is the Brooklyn equivalent of a mansion. Despite the space in the sunken living room, though, the whole front of the apartment feels cluttered. It’s too full of tchotchkes and other shit from this couple’s life. They’re suffocating each other physically and emotionally.
That suffocation drives Nicole all the way to California and to her mother’s enormous colonial two-story home. Nicole’s mom lives in the type of home that could make even the most hardcore New Yorker understand that there is more to life than traveling to and from Manhattan. The house has more than enough room to breathe with a foyer, formal dining room, eat-in kitchen, mudroom, four bedrooms, and two bathrooms that we see, but I’d wager there is a third on the second floor. Sure, it’s her mother’s house, but it’s the airy contemporary design that gives Nicole foundation to grow anew and plant new roots in what one can only imagine is at least a half acre’s worth of backyard. It’s a house that really says, “I am winning at this divorce.”
Charlie’s L.A. apartment is the exact opposite of the estate Nicole inhabits with her mother. The trouble with the apartment is not that it’s sparse—of course, it would be sparse, since Charlie is too entrenched in his East Coast life to even fathom decorating and creating ambiance in his transitional apartment on the West Coast. The problem is the design of the kitchen. In an apartment with a living room that gets so much light, it should be criminal how little light spills into the kitchen where a skilled cook like Charlie would be spending a lot of his time. Not only is the kitchen devoid of natural light, but the cabinets are also dark wood! Can you even? Is it too much to ask to have some matte white shaker cabinets? The countertops also need an extreme amount of love, but there are so few apartments with decent countertops these days, one can’t get too picky.
Kitchen aside, the apartment is a blank slate for Charlie when he finally decides to settle into his new role as a divorced dad. It’s a canvas just waiting for him to choose who it is that he wants to be. Maybe he’ll go back to being obnoxious book guy. Or he could follow my excellent advice and become a plant dad. A little bench in the front of the living room would be perfect for some bright light plants. He just needs a piece of statement furniture to tie the room together and distract future visitors from the black hole that is that dark wood linoleum floor kitchen.
Marriage Story has proven itself a divisive movie amongst those who have and have not experienced parental divorce. I imagine that if my father lived long enough for my mother to divorce him, it would have gone down like this movie but 78 times louder and would involve smaller apartments. But one thing all viewers can agree on is that this movie does an excellent job of portraying the power of the right real estate agent.