Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.
Noah Baumbach has already proven himself one of the best in the business at dissecting the quirks of modern relationships and ‘Marriage Story’ is one of his finest films yet. It’s a domestic drama about Charlie and Nicole, two young parents who have recently separated and are trying to navigate the rocky terrain of maintaining a civil relationship whilst negotiating over custody of their child. It’s very much an actor’s film, with Driver and Johansson absolutely sensational in the central roles, and Baumbach takes advantage of these performances with long takes that allow both to really shine.
It’s a film about two people who loved each other and no longer do, who are gradually starting to hate each other through the stress and damage caused by the divorce process. Their situation makes them reflect back and remember their relationship differently, souring the many positive moments they once shared together. ‘Marriage Story’ is remarkably even handed and doesn’t take sides (despite Baumbach stating it was influenced by his own divorce), presenting both parents views as reasonable despite creating a growing rift between them. Neither Charlie or Nicole are perfect, they have both made mistakes, are occasionally selfish and have their flaws, but fundamentally they are good people who want the best for their son. Crucially, as the audience, we can relate to both sides of the argument and there is no easy solution, aided by the empathetic portrayals by Driver and Johansson.
There are two other key factors that make ‘Marriage Story’ as good a film as it is, firstly the supporting performances, and secondly the fact that it’s actually a very funny film despite the subject matter. Ray Liotta and Laura Dern in particular are terrific value as lawyers representing each side, and its clear Baumbach doesn’t exactly hold lawyers and their practices with anything other than pure scorn. Amidst the tougher scenes where Charlie and Nicole are going at each other, there is a remarkable amount of humour that adds a levity to proceedings and prevents ‘Marriage Story’ from becoming a well acted, but ultimately difficult watch.
‘Marriage Story’ is an empathetic movie that paints a picture of two decent people who have seen their worst impulses come to the fore through divorce, not helped by lawyers. In Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, it has two of the year’s best performances and this is another excellent domestic drama from Noah Baumbach.
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever and Wallace Shawn