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Marriage Story (2019)

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Runtime: 2h 16min

Genre: Drama

Plot Summary

Charlie Barber is a successful theater director in New York City. His theater company is currently producing a play that stars his wife Nicole, a former teen film actress. The couple is experiencing marital troubles and sees a mediator, who suggests that they each write down what they like about one another, but Nicole is too embarrassed to read hers aloud and they decide to forgo the counseling.


Nicole is offered a starring role in a television pilot in Los Angeles, and she decides to leave the theater company and temporarily live with her mother in West Hollywood, taking the couple's young son Henry with her. Charlie decides to stay in New York, as the play is in the process of moving to Broadway. Despite the couple agreeing to split amicably and forgo lawyers, Nicole hires Nora Fanshaw, a family lawyer. Nicole tells Nora the full story of her relationship with Charlie and how she gradually felt neglected by him and how he rejects her ideas and desires. Nicole also reveals that she thinks Charlie slept with the stage manager of the theater company. Charlie flies out to Los Angeles to visit his family, revealing that he has won a MacArthur Fellowship grant, but Nicole serves him divorce papers. Charlie meets with Jay Marotta, a brash and expensive lawyer who urges Charlie to fight dirty, but Charlie returns to New York without hiring him. He receives a call from Nora, who urges him to get a lawyer soon or risk losing custody of Henry. Charlie returns to Los Angeles and hires Bert Spitz, an empathetic and retired family lawyer who favors a civil and conciliatory approach.


On Bert's counsel, Charlie rents an apartment in Los Angeles to be closer to his family and strengthen his custody case. Charlie wishes to avoid going to court, so Bert arranges a meeting with Nora and Nicole. Nora argues that Charlie refused to respect Nicole's wishes to move back to Los Angeles and that Henry would prefer to stay with his mother rather than fly back and forth between coasts. Bert privately advises Charlie to drop his New York residency altogether, but a frustrated Charlie refuses and decides to fire him.


Using the first payout of his MacArthur Fellowship grant, Charlie hires Jay on retainer. The case moves to court, where Nora and Jay argue aggressively on behalf of their clients and attempt to paint the other party in a negative light. Nora highlights Charlie's past infidelity and emotional distance, while Jay exaggerates Nicole's drinking habits as alcoholism and threatens criminal action for hacking into Charlie's emails. Meanwhile, Charlie and Nicole remain friendly out of court and share time with Henry, who is increasingly annoyed with the back and forth.


Disillusioned with the legal process, the couple decides to meet in private away from the lawyers. A friendly discussion in Charlie's apartment devolves into a bitter argument; Nicole claims that Charlie has now fully merged with his own selfishness, and Charlie punches a hole in a wall and says he wishes that she would die. He then breaks down in shame and apologizes; Nicole comforts him. An appointed expert evaluator monitors a night in with Charlie and Henry, during which Charlie accidentally cuts himself. Soon after, the couple agrees to relax their demands and reach an equal agreement to finalize the divorce, although Nora negotiates slightly better terms for Nicole, against Nicole's wishes.


A year later, Charlie's play has a successful Broadway run, while Nicole has a new boyfriend and is nominated for an Emmy Award for directing an episode of her show. Charlie informs Nicole that he has taken a residency at UCLA and will be living in Los Angeles full-time to be closer to Henry. Later, he discovers Henry reading Nicole's list of things she likes about Charlie she wrote down during counseling. Henry asks Charlie to read it aloud to him, and Charlie does so, becoming emotional as Nicole watches from afar. That evening, after attending a Halloween party together, Nicole offers to let Charlie take Henry home even though it is her night. As Charlie walks out to his car carrying a sleeping Henry, Nicole stops Charlie to tie his shoe for him. He thanks her, and they part ways once more.

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