Jesse Eisenberg in Marital Mystery – The Hollywood Reporter
There is almost a tradition, when discussing divorce in popular fiction, of treating the breakdown of a marriage as a mystery. What was once good is now bad. Whodunnit?
Usually this is a trick question. In the real world, assigning blame in some divorces is child’s play, but it’s bad drama. In your typical divorce mystery, there’s usually a parade of shared complicity, à la Agatha Christie.
Fleishman is in trouble
Funny, sad, relatable and very faithfully adapted.
Book 2019 by Taffy Brodesser-Akner Fleishman is in trouble is part divorce thriller with a very Jewish Upper East Side accent. But it’s just as much an exploration of the divorce thriller genre: a deconstruction of blame and recrimination and unhappiness (and maybe happiness, a bit) at a certain age, in a certain income bracket. I loved Brodesser-Akner’s prose and flawed characters, but found the structure of the whodunit often stifling and unavoidable.
Brodesser-Akner’s new eight episodes Flemish limited series, produced by FX for Hulu, is one of the closest book-to-screen adaptations I can remember in terms of tone and incident. But in the jumping media, much of the mystery has been undermined, the twist devalued. For me, that made for an often more satisfying story. Hulu’s Fleishman is in trouble is funny, sad and relatable. If it is not surprising in addition, it does not matter as the whole is superb.
Jesse Eisenberg plays newly divorced Toby Fleishman, settling into his 40s and wondering what’s next. Toby, a liver doctor for mostly token reasons, was shocked to find that in the New York dating market he suddenly got caught up and, thanks to the apps, he’s enjoying a buffet of casual sex. A planned summer of hollow and enjoyable kink is cut short when, out of nowhere, his ex-wife theater agent Rachel (Claire Danes) drops off her kids (Maxim Swinton’s Solly and Meara Mahoney Gross) for an unplanned weekend and…disappears .
Filled with confusion, rage and disappointment at the interruption of his planned coitus, Toby is forced to confront the past he thought was happy, a present that is suddenly and unexpectedly unmoored, and a future that once seemed unhinged. limits and which now appears to be a black void. And it does so all at once in a story that escapes any strict timeline and makes sure to include an explanation of the “block universe” theory – loosely positing that all things that happen or have happened ever produced exist and are also real at the same time – to tie things together in another piece of literary symbolism.
Offering comfort and guidance are two of Toby’s closest friends in college, a time he sees as endless potential. Seth (Adam Brody) clings desperately to his youth, resisting commitment or any trace of growth. In contrast, Libby (Lizzy Caplan) left behind a career as a writer to raise children in the suburbs with her husband Adam (Josh Radnor). By some definitions, they are all living variations of an adult dream, but is any of them fulfilled? Nuh uh.
Fleishman is in trouble is narrated by Libby, whose voiceover steers, shapes and dominates the story. On the page, Libby has a distinctive voice — sarcastic, judging, a mix of wise and ignorant — but for a while, it could almost belong in any third-person source. Read with precise comic timing and a rainbow of emotion by Caplan, the voice-over – still almost verbatim from the Brodesser-Akner tome – instantly marks Libby as at least a co-protagonist, if not the hero of series. Because of our immediate empathy for Libby, played on camera by Caplan with gleeful, utterly incredulous tousle, there’s no sense of discovery or revelation in the unveiling of the character – just the thrill of watching a great actor in a wardrobe of great, branded t-shirts playing nuanced shades of “normal”.
A similar absence of “surprise” comes from the casting of Eisenberg, an expert hired to embrace the unpleasant discomfort of characters as alienated from themselves as they are from the world around them. Toby is initially presented as admirable, mainly because he is not the parent who abandons two children in the middle of the night. But that doesn’t mean you doubt for a second that he shares the blame for the outcome of his marriage. Eisenberg makes Toby shamelessly, but never just, flawed.
Add Brody, finding lonely heart beneath Seth’s gleefully bro-y exterior, and Danes, unsurprisingly notable in season-ending episodes focused on Rachel’s deceptive strength and quivering fragility — yes, the Maria Callas of tears. of television manages to make a little sob – and you have an exceptional quartet. Brodesser-Akner and the show’s directors (Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton and Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini lead seven of the eight) treat their cast with the clearest eyes. Everyone is a hero. Everyone is a villain. Most of the time, everyone is a mess, including the well-played characters of Swinton, Gross, and Radnor (although the latter relishes the rare role of the least self-absorbed and insufferable person in sight).
I don’t know if Brodesser-Akner discovered anything unique about the state of modern marriage, but his observations are imbued with an undeniable specificity. You don’t need to have found irritation and gratification in a Philip Roth novel or been under the stifling pressure of a Jewish summer camp or lived in a doorman’s apartment building bordering on obscene near Central Park to understand what these characters are all going through. If the extreme insularity of the story feels like they’re mocking them for a few episodes, you might end up finding yourself crying with them, or for them, as you near the end.
Perhaps opening the door to this feeling indicates a small flaw in the way Flemish play on screen. It’s a bit softer than the book, and while Brodesser-Akner’s points about voyeuristic judgment — particularly its impact on men and women very differently — remain intact, they don’t land quite as scathingly. than in the novel. Having four actors that viewers have been trained to love, dating back to youthful roles, at the center of the story insulates their characters from the harshest authorial intentions or viewers’ perceptions.
But maybe it’s just a deviation and not a flaw at all. You shouldn’t walk away from Fleishman is in trouble with a singular assessment of the perpetrator or the victim, a clear picture of who is to blame. This is a series about understanding instead of accusing in a way that is both poignant and thorough.
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