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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Adam Driver busts out a spontaneous piano-bar rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” in Marriage Story. That alone justifies taking the time to watch the film, now streaming on Netflix.

Fortunately, there are other reasons besides Driver’s surprisingly amazing voice to see the movie … actually, a lot more. Driver and Scarlett Johansson are incredible in writer/director Noah Baumbach’s best movie yet—an alternately searing, touching and hilarious look at a marriage’s end times.

Nicole and Charlie Barber work together in a theater company; she’s a performer, while he’s the director. The movie starts with them deciding to go through a divorce; they promise each other things will remain amicable, and lawyers won’t get involved. Nicole will go to Los Angeles and pursue film acting, while Charlie stays in New York to work on his latest play getting to Broadway. They are determined to share custody of their young son. This will be a pleasant divorce.

Then … well, the lawyers get involved.

Early in the film, you may wonder why these two are getting divorced. They’re both fairly calm about it; heck, you might even think there’s a chance they can pull out of the nosedive and reconcile.

Nope. This director will not be trafficking in easy endings. Baumbach knows two people can really love each other, yet put themselves through a progressive, scorching hell. Nicole tries to remain civil, but Charlie has done stuff that’s going to result in rougher proceedings. Nicole gets herself a lawyer in Nora (Laura Dern, being the best Laura Dern ever); Charlie eventually caves in and gets one, too, in Bert Spitz (a funny Alan Alda) and, later, Jay (an even funnier Ray Liotta).

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this film includes the most realistic, earth-shattering, devastatingly honest marital fight I’ve ever seen in a movie. The participants in this scene must have needed some sort of assistance when it was all over. Driver and Johansson do things in this film you will not soon forget. It’s not just the moments when they tear into each other; they do a credible job of letting you know this isn’t simply a case of two people falling out of love: They still love each other, and that’s what makes the vitriol so hard to watch. While Baumbach and his cast definitely show the reasons for the marriage’s failure, the movie allows for you to wish things will get better—even as they are getting far worse. It’s so well written that it’s scary.

Randy Newman puts forth a score that is playful, hopeful and bright, even when the movie goes bleak. It’s almost like the music is there to soften the blows. It’s one of the year’s best scores, and one of the best of Newman’s storied career.

Adding to the amazing supporting cast alongside Dern and Alda is the legendary Julie Hagerty, she of Airplane!, Lost in America, What About Bob? and the vastly underrated Freddy Got Fingered. She plays Nicole’s mom, also an actress, and she’s the funniest part of the movie. Her participation makes the hard stuff go down easier.

I expect there will be a cavalcade of Oscar nominations for this one—and there damned well should be. It’s one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best and most honest films about relationships ever made. Baumbach has gone next-level with Marriage Story—and you won’t soon forget the ballad of Nicole and Charlie.

Marriage Story is now streaming on Netflix. It’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Writer-director Noah Baumbach delivers his best movie yet with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), his latest story of family dysfunction—which serves as yet another reminder that Adam Sandler can be a knockout actor when he puts his mind to it.

Sandler plays Danny, older brother to Matthew (Ben Stiller), father to Eliza (Grace Van Patten) and son of Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Danny is going through hard times, separating from his wife as Eliza prepares for college. His only option is to live with his dad and stepmom (Emma Thompson), a move that drudges up a lot of past difficulties.

When Matthew comes to town—looking to sell his parents’ house, much to the chagrin of Danny—tensions grow. Yet despite the tension, there’s a hilarious way in which this family communicates. Even when things get bad, their warmth and desire for better times with each other shine through.

While Sandler gets some good laughs (especially when he’s allowed to rage, Sandler-style), quieter moments put him in legitimate contention for an Oscar. As for frequent Baumbach collaborator Stiller, this happens to be his best dramatic performance as well. (A public speaking meltdown by Matthew constitutes the most impressive moment in the film.) Hoffman, who has played the father of both Sandler and Stiller before (Sandler in The Cobbler, and Stiller in the Focker movies), hasn’t had a chance to shine like this in a long while. Like Gene Hackman as the unreliable patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums, he owns his every scene.

This is one of the year’s funniest—and best acted—movies, and a fabulous reunion for Stiller and Sandler, more than 20 years after they shared the screen in Happy Gilmore.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Ben Stiller re-teams with director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg) for While We’re Young, a very funny movie about artistic integrity and learning to grow up.

Stiller and Naomi Watts play a 40-something couple who are content, but perhaps a little bored. They meet a 20-something couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) and find themselves drawn to them and aspects of their “really cool” lifestyle. As it turns out, the Stiller and Driver characters are both film documentarians. This leads to initial bonding—but then it leads to big problems.

This is Stiller’s funniest movie since Tropic Thunder, and Watts is every bit as funny (especially when she cuts loose in a hip-hop dance class). Driver and Seyfried are adorable, and a little scary, as the younger couple who still listen to vinyl and watch VHS tapes, because it’s cool and retro.

Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz and Maria Dizzia get laughs as Stiller’s older friends who just had a baby and are worried about the emotional welfare of their two pals.

Baumbach is always amusing, and this is one of his better films.

While We’re Young is now playing at the Camelot Theaters (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

With Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach writes a love letter to his current girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, who stars as the title character and co-wrote the script (with Baumbach).

Frances is an New York City dancer apprentice who really loves her best friend (Mickey Sumner …the daughter of Sting!) and has to move between apartments a lot. The movie follows her often-failed attempts to settle into some kind of groove—which is hard to do when you’re doing things like taking an impromptu trip to Paris after getting drunk at a dinner party.

Shot in black and white, the film has a nice, natural feel to it, and it’s propelled by Gerwig’s quirky performance. The comparisons to vintage Woody Allen are well-deserved, with Gerwig proving that she is much better in smaller fare (this and Damsels in Distress) than big Hollywood productions (No Strings Attached, Arthur).

Frances Ha is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews