Depicting the ups and downs of a twisted, unhealthy marriage, HBO’s latest series showcases great acting, impressive camera work and a pretty decent script. But yet, under all of that are two rotten characters with numerous flaws that make them difficult to empathize with.
Between the selfishness of Jonathan and Mira, what starts as an intriguing case study soon turns into a car crash you can’t take your eyes off.
The story itself is pretty straight forward. Split across five episodes, both Jonathan and Mira find themselves pushed to breaking point in each chapter. The pair break up, then get back together, then occupy some weird limbo between the two states. Each chapter essentially depicts a moment in time, acted in real-time through an hour of long, drawn out arguments and monologues.
Time passes between each episode, drip-fed through expository dialogue that’s actually quite well disguised. Complicating matters further though is the pair’s daughter, Ava. Essentially, she becomes the string in a game in tug of war. It’s not great to watch and unfortunately neither Mira nor Jonathan have any redeeming features by the time the show ends to make it a worthwhile journey.
There’s also a really weird and jumbled message when the dust settles here. Most of this show depicts the ugly side of marriage; forcing two pieces of a puzzle that really aren’t meant to be together into a picture. But yet, by the end of the final episode the big reveal leaves a conflicting question. Should you stay together for the sake of your kids? If you break up are you destined to repeat the same mistakes? And if you do choose to patch things up, is the damage already done for your trust and love?
These are interesting questions but Scenes from a Marriage cuts to black before answering any of these. Instead, this series over-compensates for the talent of its cast, feeling slightly pretentious with the way it presents this fictitious marriage.
The biggest problem with this show comes from its characters. Jonathan and Mira are just not likable. And worse, they’re actually boring. Large swathes of this show are taken up by the merry-go-round of arguments and bitter squabbles between the pair and it does become repetitive by the end.
This is only exacerbated further by Mira’s affair, Jonathan’s dependency on work and pointless supporting characters that have no arc.
Now, of course you can point to the style, the acting and the general ebb and flow of the series, which are all tremendous. The trouble is, style can only go so far without substance. There are some highlights – like the explosive argument in episode 4 – but largely this show pedals the same tired, monotonous argument multiple times. For those who enjoy watching that, you’ll find a lot to like. For everyone else, you’ll look at Jonathan and Mira’s relationship and wonder why they’re even together.
A disjointed, directionless ending and unlikable characters certainly hold this back. And yet, this is a pretty faithful remake of the original. You’ve got your usual HBO production value and both Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are excellent here. Whether that’s enough to convince you to stick around for 5 hours of this, is another matter.
Verdict - 5/10