It’s as if two of the lead characters in the two of the most popular movies in the past few years decided to make a movie that wasn’t for 16 year olds and China. It’s a welcome respite because unlike the current rage it’s not a remake, not even a ‘re-imagining’. It’s an original telling of a familiar and timeless topic that will always be relevant in any generation most likely in any part of the world and will probably still be true (and difficult to watch because it’s so true), thirty years from now. And just because of that and how low the bar has become this movie deserves much praise.
So anyway I’ll take a step back. Sometime when I was a kid I saw the 1984 Viva Film’s Working Girls featuring Hilda Koronel, Gina Pareno and many others. The character I most remember is Chandra Romero’s Anne, who played a hard working employee in a modern Makati high – rise on a steady path up the corporate ladder. She however had to deal with an insecure husband who worked a more traditional and lower paying job across town in Manila. In a telephone conversation between the two the viewer was allowed to see the difference in their workplaces. The modern one was sleek, well lighted and the people in nice uniforms while the latter wasn’t even air conditioned, looked dark and smelly.
Anne decided eventually to leave her job despite her promise opting to swallow ambition and potential in exchange for what some may perceive as ‘peace at home’. It however seemed such a terrific waste of an opportunity for me and also for her husband, who merely had to take a step back and allow his wife to shine, consequently improving theirs and their children’s chances of happiness and success. Being the good movie that it was it allowed the viewer to think for themselves and as a result for many years I often wondered what would have been had she decided to hold her ground and choose to still work.
Fast forward to this movie.
Nicole put back her promising career as an actress in Hollywood to marry Charlie, a theater director in New York. Ten years and a child later she wants out of her marriage after Charlie cheats on her and completely puts any of her needs or wants second to his own pursuits. Hollywood happens to be calling once again so she goes there to seek her fortune to positive results. She brings their son along who ends up preferring LA as well.
She hires one of the best divorce lawyers in the business, and herein is an important sub plot that happens to be an imperative to the telling of a modern divorce. As if the separation by itself is not a great tragedy enough the business of ‘lawyering up’ will add a level of catastrophe and despair to a situation that is already at its absolute worst. It is as if combatants in a battle not only wanted to defeat the other but also felt compelled to kill each others’ families, burn their memories and leave deep scars on each other’s soul completely and forever.
The problem is that despite all this Charlie and Nicole still genuinely love one another. It’s made clear from the start that the two would seek each other’s company, and even in the middle of their lawyers’ hostilities one would still felt compelled to order food for each other, still want to cut their hair or tie the others’ shoe. Anyone who’d been in a relationship knows there’s nothing like when only the two of you can understand a joke in a room full of people. It is what makes relationships special and I just gasped at how brilliant the writing is at capturing that.
However Nicole has just had enough and despite her graciousness and the many openings she would give him Charlie remains stubborn, unapologetic and ultimately ridiculous. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind she must win her case.
The movie softens Charlie’s character from being a flat out self serving egomaniac to being one because he is a capable and talented artist himself, not unlike his wife. Regardless it possible to not blame the whole mess on him. Laura Dern’s character put it bluntly, “So it’s a deal when it’s something you want, but a discussion if Nicole wants it?”. This sentence puts to frame Charlie’s problem who although is struggling just as much as Nicole you keep hoping that he would just give in and let it happen. But he doesn’t. He just doesn’t get it, and so tragically this drama needs to drag through to the very end.
This movie is what would have happened if Anne had decided to stay employed.
I am grateful for this. The movie landscape unfortunately has been quite sad as of late, with every production looking to make the next MCU, which I don’t blame them. I think Johannson’s other recent movie this year is the best of the genre ever. But there are great stories out there waiting to be told and if you pick the right one it’ll come out like an uppercut when you thought you were going to get a left hook. This certainly is exactly that kind of impact and I hope they all get Oscars.