Helpful Advice For The Husband From ‘Marriage Story’

There is hope for Adam Driver’s character. First: get a better haircut, bro

Sara Benincasa
Dec 17, 2019 · 6 min read

For me, the biggest surprise about Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is that I liked it.

It is a good movie that would’ve been a great sixty-minute standalone episode of an anthology series about breakups or sad white people with money or the breakup of two sad white people with money. It is not one of the best films of the year, but it is about successful artists with problems, the kind of successful artists who eventually gain voting membership in academies and associations that give awards to more successful artists with money who remind them of themselves. It will win awards.

There’s not a weak performance in the cast. Adam Driver is great. Scarlett Johansson, playing a white actress based on another white actress and not a tree, a trans man or an individual of Asian descent, does a very fine job. It’s the best I’ve ever seen her. Woody Allen probably loves it!

I have read the divorce in the film described as “grueling.” This divorce is grueling in the way that a moderately inconvenient, slightly uncomfortable but ultimately successful dental appointment is grueling. A man on Twitter told me it was “brave” of Noah Baumbach to create a film based on his own divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. “Brave” is indeed an adjective in the English language and I suppose one can use it as one wishes.

Spoiler alert: At one point in this movie, Adam Driver’s character gets a text that he’s received a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “genius grant.” I am sorry that he did not later receive a DM about his Pulitzer or a private message on Instagram about his Nobel. That is how these things work, apparently, in this world. But not in ours.

More spoilers: People cry on command, somebody balls up an angry little fist and barely dents drywall, zero big secrets are revealed, nobody gets hit. The Big Fight Scene is meant to be staggering. I found it adorable. The wife, Nicole, is so kind to the husband after he says not-nice things. Tensions are released. Presumably, no one has a flare-up of irritable bowel syndrome after this argument.

In a cut scene that probably lives with all the other cut scenes that feature any actors of color saying more than a few lines, I bet these onetime lovebirds later go to IHOP in West Hollywood and it is tasty, with good service. Maybe they’ll run into the hilarious LA stereotype played by the brilliant Sarah Jones, who does a marvelous job with what she’s given. And she’s given good stuff, just not enough of it.

It is lost on me how anyone could cast Sarah Jones, Tunde Adebimpe, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Irene Choi and give them so little to do, but this is Baumbach’s world and we’re just staying awake in it.

But I am not here to review this film. Ahem.

I am here to provide advice for Adam Driver’s character in Marriage Story. His name is Charlie Barber, and he directs plays and he is very serious about those plays. He is not a bad guy. Neither is his ex-wife, Nicole. No one in this film is a bad person, even Charlie’s ex-mother-in-law, played to manipulative narcissistic perfection by Julie Hagerty. But Charlie could use some help from an armchair unlicensed psychoanalyst like me. Here, then, is that sage wisdom.

Get a good haircut

His freaking last name is Barber. He is shaming the legacy of his hereditary nomenclature. Charlie needs to stop letting Nicole cut his hair. It doesn’t matter how quirky or creative you are: if you live in a nice apartment in Brooklyn, you can afford a nice normal haircut. She is awful at cutting hair. She herself has a terrible haircut. She is a good mother, wife, and actress. She seems to have no friends, but she would likely be a decent one. But she is a terrible hairstylist. There is no excuse for his continuing to submit himself to this torment, especially when he is a man who has a thick and luxurious head of hair and who veers between two of the beauty capitals of our great nation, New York and Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, I would suggest seeking out Sabina Yannone or any of Rudy’s franchises. In New York, I’d go with Soon Beauty Lab in Fort Greene, Carroll Gardens or the one on West 22nd between 5th and 6th. Anyway, look good, feel good.

Eat whole foods, especially veggies

Charlie seems to exclusively eat garbage. I don’t recall him eating anything remotely healthful in the film. I would like for him to add some greens to his diet and to remember to drink more water. Perhaps he can start hitting up farmers’ markets year-round now that he lives in Los Angeles at least some of the time, and make meals ahead so he can heat things up from the fridge when he’s tired from his grueling schedule of running various adult playtime sandboxes with ample funding. He’s a man so he’ll be able to find a hot younger girlfriend with self-esteem issues no matter what, and he will start a second family and then, if necessary, a third, so this isn’t about his looks or sexual appeal. He tends to get anxious, and I’m worried about all that salt and hypertension. I want him to stay healthy for his kid, the only one in the family who looks cute with the hair Nicole has foisted upon him.

Incorporate cardio into your life

Charlie spends a lot of time in his head, and I can relate to that. I’ve found that cardio exercise three times a week really does help me feel better, and about a zillion studies seem to bear that out. I like exercising alone in my home, but I think he’d probably be into hiking with a friend who makes him laugh. He likes to laugh and needs to for his own sanity. Sure, he walks a lot when he’s in New York, but maybe some yoga in his apartment would help. He could find his next couple of wives at a yoga studio. Ooh, or he could try boxing! He can find boxing gyms on both coasts and just punch a bunch of shit. Eventually, he’ll probably have an emotional release and start working on those family of origin issues to which he and Nicole both allude in the film.

Build a toolkit for stress

Charlie is stressed. He’s mourning the loss of a relationship, and it’s mainly his fault — he’s a narcissist who never gave his wife sufficient attention or respect, which led her to grow cold toward him, which made him decide to bang somebody else, which made her upset, and she finally asked for a divorce. He should be stressed, but he also strikes me as the type to wallow in depression as a form of self-pity rather than asking for the help he needs and to which he surely has abundant access. Invest some of that genius grant in a real deal shrink, baby! And he shouldn’t just pick somebody who nods and coos and says, “Oh, that must be so hard for you.” That kind of therapist is uttering warm words soaked in snake oil. He needs somebody who challenges him while still being kind and supportive. He needs to get a good therapist on either coast with whom he will Skype weekly.

Treat creative women better

Charlie is so focused on his own pretentious theatrical dreams that he fails to admire, support or encourage his wife’s own creative talents. He cheats on her, which happens, and I’m not here to morally judge it. Monogamy gets boring and sex with new people can be very fun! But he’s dismissive and generally rude to the stage manager gal he banged, who is no more a villain than his wife. Somehow, because good things tend to happen to guys like him, he gets a genius grant for what does not exactly appear to be groundbreaking work. Let’s maybe throw some of that money in the direction of not just the aforementioned therapist, but perhaps, also, talented women artists whom he won’t bang? Maybe one day he can cast several of them in a film about his feelings that men of the Internet can call “brave.” He can thank those women in his inevitable awards acceptance speeches.

Honestly, that’s about it. I’m not worried about Charlie, or Nicole, or their kid, or her family, or his friends. They’re going to be fine. They were always fine. Except for those haircuts.


Masculinity is a mask. A bright, colorful mask.

Sara Benincasa

Written by

Comedian, author, writer for screens. My latest book is Real Artists Have Day Jobs



Masculinity is a mask. A bright, colorful mask.

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