Finally got around to watching this one and boy, was it worth the wait. Noah Baumbach’s tale of a couple coping with the struggles and heartbreak of divorce had received a lot attention and more than deserving of the hype. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play New York based married couple Nicole and Charlie Barber who are pitted against one another by their lawyers when going through their divorce. Directed and written by Baumbach and containing many signature improvised scenes in true Baumbach fashion, he truly has outdone himself with this flick and created a film that is deeply human and resonating on many levels. He does not want the audience to pick sides as each side is justified and wrong in their own ways. Both characters lay out the others’ strengths and weaknesses in the opening monologues, setting the tone for the rest of the film. The film seems more stripped back in direction than Baumbach’s previous endeavours but then this feels like his most personal project and in many respects, the most heartfelt.
Johansson and Driver bring the best performances of their careers to date and both will receive nominations for sure and stand a very good chance at bringing home Oscars. Johansson takes a break from the Marvel franchise and it seems that she revels in being Nicole, an actress who longs to return to her native Los Angeles to make TV shows and films. Nicole is deeply passionate about being an active member of the family unit, particularly when it comes to being a mum to their son, Henry. She plays with him for hours on end and constantly rewards him for completing simple and menial tasks. Driver’s Charlie on the other hand resents rewarding his son for going to the toilet and instead wants to instill maturity and push his son to do his homework and work on his skills. What both parents share is an undying love for their child and the mutual understanding that the divorce outcome must be beneficial to Henry’s needs most of all.
As Nicole’s lawyer Nora, Laura Dern is glamorous, unstoppable and manipulative. She swoops in with compliments for Nicole on their first meeting, decked out in a beautiful outfit and sky high heels that become a signature throughout. She is a hugely intimidating character who begins to create a narrative on behalf of Nicole. In the courtroom scene, Nora refuses to back down and the articulation and intelligence that Dern brings to the role is surely going to bring that overdue Oscar. Dern has always been a reliable actress, wowing time and time again but with Marriage Story, she is able command the control of the scenes that she is in. She is truly mesmerising in her speeches and empowering in her confidence.
There are many scenes in this film that caused me to pause and take in the perfection but the big one has to be Nicole and Charlie’s huge argument as they cannot agree. It’s brutal, real and incredibly improvised. What starts as neutral smalltalk soon turns into a hurtful explosion full of abuse hurled at both sides and Nicole and Charlie both rip into each other for their weaknesses and expose the problems in the marriage that had been bubbling the surface and kept from the audience until this point. This honesty soon makes way for the ridiculous as they begin to insult each other for points and it soon ends with Charlie’s meltdown in which he curse Nicole and hopes she is smited with illness before being run over and wishing she was dead. Immediately, he falls to his knees in defeat as he instantly regrets his words and the two apologise. The exhaustion of the scene radiates off the screen. Before this scene, the tension is clearly brewing but both parties delude themselves and pretend everything is ok and can be relatively normal given the circumstance but here we are presented the reason and the breaking of the foundation.
This film subverts the usual divorce storyline in that the characters do not get back together at the end. This isn’t to say it isn’t a happy ending. In fact, both characters are much happier for it and we see the positive outcome and newfound respect that the protagonists have for each other. The end scene being a breath of fresh air in the aftermath of their court session. It’s a film that you cannot help but feel affected. The realism and authentic approach makes it seem like you are watching a real marriage fall apart. The genius of Baumbach’s writing is that he makes you sympathise with one party then the other and then you end up feeling sorry for both and wanting the best for them. Nicole and Charlie have done bad things during the course of their marriage but that does not make them bad people.
I think that Marriage Story will be a film discussed for many years and has revolutionised filmmaking for streaming culture. The film does not make any attempts to blend in nor does it want to be trendy. Baumbach is simply delivering quality cinema and making it accessible for everyone. There is an audience for it and I think a simple film like Marriage Story is a perfect way to break the ice further in the same way Roma did. I would give this film some major awards, particularly for its writing and acting. It’s a well-rounded film that is truly captivating from start to end. You feel that you truly get to know Charlie and Nicole equally throughout.
What do you think of Marriage Story? Let me know in the comments below!