Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Kyle Bornheimer, Alan Alda, Merritt Weaver, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Mark O’Brien, Matthew Shear, Brooke Bloom, Mickey Sumner, Wallace Shawn, Martha Kelly, Rich Fulcher
R for language throughout and sexual references
It’s no surprise that divorce has been a constant source of cinematic exploration. Marriage Story might be the latest film to delve into the muddy waters surrounding the end of a relationship, but through sharp observation, it feels like one of the most honest and realistic examinations of the subject to date.
The marriage of an up-and-coming New York stage director (Adam Driver) and his actress muse (Scarlett Johansson) is on the verge of collapse. After Johansson’s Nicole moves back to Hollywood to pursue a television acting career, Driver’s Charlie becomes further estranged as he bounces back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. All of this is an effort to head off the impending divorce Nicole has filed for. Caught between the two is their young son Henry (Azhy Robertson).
No longer compatible, the pair try their best to do what’s best for Henry, but an ambitious divorce attorney (Laura Dern) gets in the way and the pair’s amicable separation turns into an acrimonious divorce.
In a very theatrical way, the film opens as Charlie and Nicole are seeing a marriage counselor who instructs them to write letters expressing all of the things they love about the other. We are treated to a off-off Broadway kind of performance that mirrors Charlie’s current stage production and which highlights all of the great and wonderful things Charlie has to say about Nicole. Nicole tries to play along, but she can’t and the relationship steadily crumbles from there.
Driver and Johansson deliver career-best performances as parents with great love for their child and waning love for each other. Neither wants the marriage to dissolve, but over the course of the film, it becomes clear that these differences are irreconcilable. Dern is also terrific as Nicole’s no-holds-barred divorce lawyer who knows how to work a courtroom and manipulate the parties into expressing their true, buried feelings towards one another, feelings that are almost superficially negative.
Noah Baumbach paints Marriage Story as a kind of modern version of Kramer vs. Kramer by way of Woody Allen. It’s an acerbic tale of jaded creative types who want nothing but the best for their son and never want to give up on him, but must give up on each other to remain whole people.
Marriage Story is a soul crushing, yet life affirming drama about the dark underside of divorce and the crippling effect it can have on the separating participants. Although the fireworks fly often, the film refuses to let the the animosity, frustration, and surface-deep disgust drag the entire film into an acrimonious morass of self-loathing and self-destructive behavior. The frankness of the film’s narrative is skillfully brought forth by the uncomplicated direction and stellar performances that it contains.
January 20, 2020