Interestingly, neither Nicole nor Charlie become the main antagonist as the movie wears on; Baumbach does not cast judgement on either party. They are equally in the wrong and right. Nicole has spent years bending to Charlie's will, existing in the shadow of his "genius," for which he wins a MacArthur Grant. Charlie, on the other hand, is understandably frustrated that Nicole wants to relocate his kid across the country, seeing the idea of home ripped away from him. And once the legal system gets involved, their differences augment and their genial coexistence becomes downright acrimonious.
Baumbach's script highlights how the very business of getting divorced -- it's economics -- makes people forget why they even loved each other in the first place. But the saga he's telling is not without hope. The messy experience of splitting up also forces his characters to live more honestly. It examines the breaking apart of these people before they put themselves back together in a slightly different order.
Amid all of the dire divorce talk, Baumbach writes in plenty of his typical sense of humor -- think his other brilliant piece about divorce, The Squid and the Whale. While Driver and Johansson do the emotional heavy lifting, the cast of characters orbiting them highlights the fundamental absurdity of the situation. Dern got mid-screening applause during the film's Toronto International Film Festival premiere for a witheringly hilarious speech about the biblical burden placed on women. An early scene with Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty as Nicole's sister and mother, respectively, is a positively zany take on serving someone divorce papers that involves accents, pie, and pooping.