‘Marriage Story’ // Film Review: Noah Baumbach’s Tale of Falling Out of Love

After sitting through Marriage Story, Netflix’s latest drama that just got released in time for Oscar season, there’s a part of me wondering if getting married is a bright idea. Maybe that’s not true. But when the time comes that I met that special someone, staying true with one another and keeping things alive is key. Having a film based on that might not be the easiest thing to sit through, but you learn about one another in those times of need.

What’s the Story: Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) is a New York theater director that works with his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), a former film actress that started working with him in his theater productions. As they are unfortunately going through a divorce after ten years, it comes to a point of not ruining the relationship they have with their 8-year-old son Henry (Azhy Robertson). This difficult time, of course, leads to having lawyers involved while finally complete this long-awaited divorce along the way.

Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and Azhy Robertson in Marriage Story (2019)

Believe it or not, this is the first film I’ve ever seen from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The indie crowd already knows he’s a very talented guy in Hollywood, and his partner is freakin’ Greta Gerwig, so we can label him as cool. I already know he’s well known for handling dramatic comedies like The Squid and the WhaleFrances Ha, and his last flick from Netflix The Meyerowitz Stories, but just never got around to checking them out. But with him helming a director with two talented actors involved, who knows how this will turn out? Being quite bored is possible, or thinking about how one person can reliably react to this is easy enough. It’s a good thing we’re getting some great movies near the end of the year because Marriage Story has now jumped on my best list.

If you want to witness a great film with possibly the best performances of the entire year, this is it because there’s no single reason you should not like the range of talent that comes from Driver and Johansson. Even though they’re playing a couple on getting divorced, the chemistry between them is played out so well that you honestly believe that they were together in real-life. Both of them have enough screen presence to get to know them a lot better.

2019 is definitely Driver’s year, and here he gives what could be the best performance these eyes have witnessed out of everybody in cinema. There was never a doubt in my mind thinking his role as Charlie would be pathetic, and yet this is a man you’re hoping pulls through all of this. He has to go back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, where Nicole and Henry live while she’s working on a pilot.

And Johansson has always been an actress I’ve always been a fan of. Despite those hating on her and not thinking she’s good at acting, you forget how amazing she is when she’s working in a drama. Even outside of the MCU, she killed it with other classics like Lost in Translation, Her (where she’s only a voice as an operating system and feels like a three-dimensional character), and another one of my favorites of the year, Jojo Rabbit. With Marriage Story, this might be the best performance out of her entire career.

There is a scene that’s just the two of them, and you’ll know when, that builds up that tension so carefully where it starts small enough to not thinking too huge, and then it smacks you in the face not knowing how to feel. That entire scene delivers some of the most flawless acting all year. It felt like a play while watching, and it’s devastating.

But I have to talk about Bambach’s work being shown through his screenplay and direction. When you have a drama that requires a lot of characters talking in dealing with a tough time like divorce, he’s able to make it feel real where it doesn’t seem like we’re watching recognizable actors on screen. A lot of scenes are done in long takes with rarely any music added and it didn’t bother me. There’s even a scene with Johansson talking about why she wanted to divorce Driver, and it doesn’t break. Pure filmmaking right there. He also throws in a few funny moments that are awkward or relatable, like not being able to reach the machine to get a ticket for parking.

Just when you catch the trailers, one might assume Marriage Story to be some kind of combination of 2010’s Blue Valentine and the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer, since it’s based around a story of not only a custody battle between a kid but exploring tough moments in a relationship. But with Blue Valentine being a realistic drama that makes its viewer depressed, this doesn’t in a way that’s while heartbreaking, tells more of a coherent story when it’s being presented through both perspectives. 

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story (2019)

The supporting cast shouldn’t be ignored for a second because they all were all great as well. Here’s who else it got in this: Laura Dern (Love her) as Nicole’s lawyer Nora, Ray Liotta as Jay Marotta, the first lawyer Charlie comes to that he couldn’t afford, Alan Alda as Bert Spitz, Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s actress mother, and Merritt Wever as Nicole’s sister Cassie. Even Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from The Princess Bride) pops up occasionally to give the film some good comedic relief.

On the technical side, Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is fantastic, and Randy Newman’s score hits at the right moments. Figuring out he provided the score was a surprise from me.

Those who are or have gone through the process of divorce is a stressful time in anyone’s life. Seeing those you know for a long time deciding not to be with each other anymore is usually hard, especially when there’re children involved. I don’t even like it myself. Any time when celebrities shock everyone when an announcement like that appears out of the blue is hard to understand. As shown from Charlie and Nicole’s different perspectives, though flawed, they aren’t portrayed as terrible people; it just came to a point where the sparks aren’t there. Even once a married couple separates, there’s usually a chance of getting back together, or not, and it’s hard for everyone to think through. I can believe exes can still be friends without wanting to rip each other apart.

When there are scenes where the lawyers take place, that kind of taking wouldn’t interest me since there’s a bunch of legal terms being discussed. This film was interesting for letting me pay attention to how each side tries to win and make the other look bad. Also, take note that hiring them is expensive. They didn’t even want them involved and make this an easy breakup. The outcome of the film might be predictable to some, but how you feel about won’t leave your mind for several days.

Is the Oscar potential there? Absolutely. This has to get nominated for Best Picture, Baumbach for Director and Original Screenplay, and there’s no way Johansson will be left out for a Best Actress nomination. As for Driver, the competition is pretty high in the Best Actor category, but I believe he has a strong chance of winning Best Actor. You read that right.

By the end of watching Marriage Story, it’s easy to see why everybody has been praising this ever since. I was expecting it almost wreck me and leave me in emotional distress, but besides that great argument scene, it didn’t, and I’m glad about that. This is two weeks in a row Netflix has a great original film with this and The Irishman. From Bambach’s screenplay and direction to the amazing performances from its two leads that are too memorable to forget, there’s a lot of love in over two hours. At least it didn’t make it me lose my faith in finding love.

Grade: A-

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