On Sunday, Jan. 5, actress Laura Dern took home her fifth Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture for her portrayal of vicious divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw in Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story.’
The romantic comedy-drama has been received very well by critics, even earning a 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The film truly is one of the best of 2019, and that is largely thanks to Dern.
Dern’s character Fanshaw is a complete foil from what society expects lawyers to be. First of all, she’s a powerful, no-nonsense woman that will do anything in her power to protect her client, Scarlett Johansson’s character Nicole, who is divorcing Adam Driver’s character Charlie. She has a very sensual air to her and is actually quite personable, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t willing to step over whoever it takes to win the case.
Dern does an impeccable job of making viewers both love and absolutely loathe Fanshaw. Women especially can connect to the character’s dialogue, at which one point she explains to Nicole that females are never allowed to be firm, always having to live up to unattainable expectations like the Virgin Mary and “Judeo-Christian whatever.” Dern nails the comedy in her lines and adds even more complexity to the character by using physicality to convey power.
Fanshaw is a very sexual character, constantly bearing her arms and chest (which, really, shouldn’t be a big deal, but is in a field largely dominated by men). The fashion sense and sensuality of the character is actually what sets her over the top as a strong woman. She most definitely appeals to the feminist audience, urging her client to understand that this case is about establishing what she wants, not the desires of her soon to be ex-husband. Not only that, but Dern makes watchers even sympathize with the attorney after finding out that her ex was verbally abusive and a “narcissistic artist” (very similar to Nicole’s situation with playwright Charlie.) We can understand that Fanshaw does what she does because of her past and with the intention that her fellow women will stop being shoved aside, and for that reason you almost find yourself rooting for her… until she turns into a complete bully.
Dern effortlessly portrays the multifaceted feminist, cunning, and evil lawyer. She makes the audience dislike her little by little throughout the last half of the movie, until they want nothing to do with the character by the end. Fanshaw makes an effort to completely destroy Charlie’s image in court, twisting little stories and painting him to be some sort of sociopath. Although he has definitely wronged Nicole, the attorney fabricates an exaggerated narrative when she had previously promised Nicole to go easy and carry themselves with etiquette. Fanshaw is ruthless and conniving, taking it so far as to arrange 55/45 custody for her client because she didn’t want Charlie to have the satisfaction of getting away even, even after being told not to do so. The most frustrating part, though, is that the lawyer doesn’t seem to care that she’s ripping everything away from Charlie, including his money earned directing plays in New York and the child that he shares with Nicole. At the end of the day, it’s just business and Dern plays that shark in a skin-tight dress flawlessly.
Dern explained to Independent UK that she connected on a deep personal level with the story, having come from a divorced family and being divorced herself. For that reason, she sought to bring as much emotion and honesty to her role as possible.
“We’re so privileged to redefine what family looks like,” Dern told the online publication.
And redefine she did. Dern deserves all the praise for her fantastic work in ‘Marriage Story’. Her Golden Globe was extremely well deserved, and Baumbach made no mistake in casting her to play Nora Fanshaw. No one could have done it better.