Want to see a film featuring some of the best acting you’ll find in 2019? See Marriage Story with devastatingly emotional performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Interested in one of the more intimate looks at the divorce process? Director/Screenwriter Noah Baumbach peers so closely into the splintering of a couple it almost feels observing something we’re not meant to see.
Marriage Story feels like life after the magical The End title rolls out on a romantic comedy with the film revealing the potential not so happy aftermath.
The film kicks off with a terrific opening sequence where Nicole (Johansson, Avengers: Endgame) and Charlie (Driver, BlackKklansman) recall why they initially fell in love. Both cite the others’ passions, drive, compassion and their amazing parenting skills with their son, Henry (a very strong Azhy Robertson). Now, Charlie and Nicole are convinced a reconciliation isn’t in the cards yet they want to have an amicable divorce for their sake as well as for Henry.
Baumbach wisely doesn’t try and assign blame or make Nicole or Charlie the culprit for their marriage’s failure. As the story unfolds it would have been easy to designate the bad guy, but like most relationships gone bad, there’s enough blame to go around from both parties. Baumbach parcels out the reasons why the marriage failed from Charlie’s inflexibility to Nicole’s lack of communication, but it’s clear they’ve lost whatever love they once had.
Unsure of how to proceed, Nicole and Charlie eventually lawyer up. Nicole selects the savvy powerhouse Nora (Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Laura Dern in a killer supporting role) while Charlie waffles between the grandfatherly Bert (Alan Alda) and the ruthless Jay (Ray Liotta). Naturally, the once peaceful divorce gets dirty as the custody battle takes an increasingly nastier and personal tone.
This culminates in one of the rawest and stunning scenes I’ve seen in years. It’s the film’s showcase scene that all but assures Driver and Johansson will get penned in to the best actor/actress nomination spots from all critics groups.
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Baumbach’s script is so real and shows the pain associated when a couple splits right down to Nicole’s mother (Julie Hagerty) and sister (Merritt Wever, The Walking Dead) feeling awkward about having to distance themselves from Charlie.
I loved Baumbach’s directorial choices such as when he’d opt for a steady wide shot or when he’d zoom in close enough to watch the tear trails falling down faces. Two long musical scenes don’t work nearly as well even though Baumbach’s intentions were clear.
Marriage Story is going to be one of the films to beat this award season and it’s that high quality film that’s going to warrant its attention and accolades.
Not all stories have a fairy tale, happy ending and from one perspective, Marriage Story won’t leave audiences with warm, fuzzy feelings afterwards. But on a larger sense it showcases a family’s ability to overcome even the most challenging ordeal to the family unit.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix