NEW YORK CITY — There I sat in the Park Avenue screening room, wondering whether I’d get a chance to ask questions of Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda or director Noah Baumbach.
I was part of a trip provided by Netflix for members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the largest film critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 300 television, radio and online critics. Every year, we critics vote in various categories of film and television awards, and our awards gala is broadcast live in January.
Netflix believes strongly in the quality of “A Marriage Story.” So for this film, to ensure the film is seen by voters in movie competitions, voters were whisked off to various junkets to see them (trips for the “The Irishman” and “The Two Popes” were in Los Angeles).
We were provided with six Uber trips, $125 for incidentals at the Essex Hotel on Park Avenue, where we stayed, and our choice of flights. I chose connectors in Detroit because I was able to get home earlier.
We flew out Saturday and returned late Sunday, so I packed next to nothing to keep my tote light.
I was in contact with the Netflix reps throughout. My Uber ride from JFK to the Essex took long enough for me to see parts of New York and text loved ones.
I felt prepared and almost smug until I stepped into the Essex lobby. There, my burnt-orange winter coat sent a flare of “This person is a tourist” to everyone in the room.
Everyone else was wearing either black or charcoal. Every. Single. Person. I felt my coat growing brighter — you could even say it glowed by the time I reached check-in and I had my Nordstrom’s slippers presented to me in a fetching little bag.
I didn’t have a lot of time or things to unpack, so after I explored my gorgeous room with the cushiest pillows ever, I went downstairs and walked to the screening room. It was a small space with a small screen. Funny thing was, the movie was playing all over New York, where “Marriage Story” was advertised everywhere and seemed to be on every theater marquee.
Afterward, I had a glass of $28 pinot noir and it was off to bed.
On Sunday, Netflix held a luncheon for the critics. I scampered across the street to Central Park, where I saw the infamous flocks of pigeons, the horse-drawn carriages and something like a gazillion people, some of whom were wearing colorful jackets and coats … the other tourists.
This will stay with me forever. A man with a little dog walked briskly through the park. “Oh, look!” he said to his little companion. “The grass is open today! It’s never open.” So it was — a sign told visitors exactly that. The dog excitedly lunged toward the lawn area.
At the Whitby Hotel, on West 56th Street, we gathered in a small room with comfy seating for the stars. We were instructed no live Facebook or flash photography would be allowed. A few critics would be selected to ask questions of the three actors and the director.
When the quartet walked in and sat down, people jockeyed to take photos with their phones. I managed to grab a seat in the second row, so I was just a few feet away from them.
The Q&A began. The four talked about the production and its messages about the cruelties of divorce — it’s really a divorce story — and how it affects families and children.
The Netflix representative chose only a handful of critics around the room to ask questions.
Mine was the last question. I asked the three actors about the most physically demanding parts of their roles.
“The fight was pretty physically exhausting, plus htting the wall over and over again got exhausting,” said Driver, who plays a husband going through a divorce.
Dern, who plays an attorney, said it wasn’t physically demanding but it was a very physical part. She said her character is a “woman who is determined to make sure that women find their voice in a particularly male-driven, mostly sexist previous past. And now this woman is sort of the boss of the room, and yet uses her body to get the job done in a really odd and interesting way to me.”
Alda, who plays Driver’s attorney, brought the house down with his reply. “The only physically demanding thing I had in the movie was hugging Adam,” he said. ”Because he’s so tall I kept choking on my shoulder.”
After the Q&A, I had a one-on-one with Baumbach, and I asked him about the title of the movie. “I always saw the movie as a love story,” Baumbach told me. “There’s a philosopher that talks about how something you experience everyday stops working as you are used to — a door you go through is suddenly locked. You actually investigate and look at the door in a way that you wouldn’t normally when it’s open all the time.
“In presenting the breakdown of a marriage, I actually felt I was an opportunity to tell the story of a marriage.”
After we talked, I stealthily retrieved my orange coat from a broom closet, then prepared to call an Uber. That’s when my friend, Jean, who lived in New York for years, texted me. “You are so close to the Dakota,” she said. “You have to go there.”
Minutes later, I did, and found myself among other John Lennon devotees. I asked a security guard named Hector how many people come to take pictures there every day. “A thousand,” he said, adding weather has no effect on it. The hotel remains a kind of memorial to Lennon, who was murdered in the archway of the building in 1980.
Minutes later, I was off to Newark, through the Holland Tunnel (yikes) and then to Detroit and my flight home.
I loved New York, what little I saw of it, and I long to return. In the meantime, I will put on my orange coat and go for a walk in Vander Veer, where the grass always is open.