Marriage Story is a Noah Baumbach film starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson playing Charlie and Nicole, a couple that is at the end of their marriage and about to start finalizing their divorce. I can very confidently say that no movie has ever had a lasting effect on me the way that Marriage Story has. If you think you need to have gone through a divorce or at least be married in order to connect to this movie, you are wrong. I am a 23 year old who is as far as you can get from a marriage and yet this movie resonated so deeply with me.
Marriage story is, at first glance, a story about a divorce. However, upon further reflection, you realize that it’s so much more. It’s a story about love, about finding yourself and being honest with yourself. It’s about finding the courage to speak up for yourself and be brave enough to speak up for what you want. The film is told from a dual perspective, the first half focusing mostly on Nicole, the wife, and the second half focusing more on Charlie, the husband.
When you hear ‘movie about divorce’, you think it will centre around a couple’s experiences and them ultimately opting for divorce, but that is not the case. The film begins with the two main characters already having decided to end their marriage. The story instead focuses on the legal proceedings of a divorce and how that can impact a family trying to coparent. You’d think it would be a depressing film, but you’d be surprised to see just how many times you laugh throughout the film. Don’t get me wrong, it is gut wrenching and very heartbreaking, but it will also make you laugh and smile a lot more than you would think. You’re probably expecting a film filled with confrontation, big overt fights and arguments when in reality, the conversations between Charlie and Nicole always remain very civilize, until they decide to bring lawyers into their situation… Until THAT scene. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. If you haven’t, you’ll know when you see it. There’s really only one big argument in the movie. It’s a simple scene, and yet it features some of the best acting performances I’ve ever witnessed.
Now that you’ve got an overview of this movie, let’s dive right into what makes it so special. Simply put, the people who made this movie all excelled in their respective jobs.
Firstly, Noah Baumbach. His writing and directing is pretty damn close to perfect. The script is so well sculpted and the direction is so specific and precise in helping tell the story. A fun fact about this script is that not a single word, pause, ‘um’, or ‘but’ is improvised. Everything was an intentional part of Baumbach’s script, which just makes you appreciate it so much more. Regarding his directing, he has shot the whole movie almost from the perspectives of his two leads. You, as a viewer, get to experience and see things unfold as the characters do. When you’re in Charlie’s part of the story, and he’s interacting with Nicole, it’s almost as if you’re watching her and listening to her from over Charlie’s shoulder. This immerses the audience into the movie and allows them to fully experience the film as its characters are. This is probably why so many people come out of this movie feeling very emotionally drained and devastated…. but in the best possible way.
Secondly, you can’t talk about Marriage Story without highlighting its two lead performances. Both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at the best they’ve ever been. Every single line delivery is perfectly crafted and the chemistry between them is almost palpable. Is chemistry really important in a story about divorce? I think in this case, it is. Charlie and Nicole are two people who just are not right for each other romantically. This does not diminish the love and respect they have for one another. The film even ends with a sweet, caring moment between the couple. The film gives both actors the room to deliver their big ‘Oscar moment’ scenes. While their scenes together are quite intense and amazing, the scenes where they come to terms with their new reality on their own is what takes this movie up a notch. Whether it’s Scarlett’s perfectly acted scene where Nicole finally admits her reasons for wanting a divorce and decides to put herself first for once, or it’s Adam’s intensely charged and emotional realization of his feelings through a Broadway musical number… these performances will leave you utterly speechless and will have you hopping onto their respective Oscar campaigns.
In addition to the incredible lead performances, the film is supporting by a handful of other extremely talented actors. Laura Dern plays Nicole’s perfectly ruthless LA lawyer and delivers a monologue for the history books. Allan Alda plays Charlie’s first all too trusting and all too caring lawyer that makes you wish he was your best friend. His character serves as this sort of moral compass, that ‘we can all have what we want if we just talk through it’ type of character, who just sees the good in everyone and is just not willing to make the cutthroat, hard moves that are sometimes required in a divorce case. Ultimately, his inability to be anything more than a caring teddy bear is the reason we get a taste of Ray Liotta as Charlie’s own ruthless LA lawyer. These supporting performances all elevate the story that much more.
The only real critique that I have for the film is one that did not really bother me, but that i’ve seen circulating on the Film Twitterverse for a few months. This revolves around the dual perspective of the movie. It’s supposed to tell you the story from both perspectives and yet, the screen times are not perfectly divided, with Charlie’s story having a little more time than Nicole’s. Regardless of this, I don’t think the film tries to swing its audience in favor of one character or another. It doesn’t sugar coat them, doesn’t shy away from depicting each of their flaws, where they were in the right and where they were in the wrong.
All in all, this movie is my favourite of the year by a long mile and it might even be my favourite movie of the decade. I saw Marriage Story at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It is now just under a week until its release on Netflix and there hasn’t been a single day since seeing it for the first time that I haven’t thought about this movie. It has impacted me and stayed with me for reasons I cannot explain. I haven’t experience a marriage, let alone a divorce, and yet i felt incredibly invested in the story and concerned for the wellbeing of these two characters. I think the reason for this is the sheer power of Scarlett and Adam as the lead actors and the absolute brilliance of Baumbach’s script. I think the film’s focus on the legal process of divorce and its effects on the two parties sets it apart and gives it a unique taste. And even though the dual perspectives may not be split at exactly 50% per character, the film doesn’t force an opinion onto you. It gives you the space to build your own perspective, forge your own opinion and choose a side if you feel so inclined. It presents the flaws, lays each character’s strengths and shortcomings at your disposition. It doesn’t force you to feel sympathetic for one at the detriment of the other. At the end of the day, both perspectives will give you heartfelt, emotional, and funny moments, so you don’t have to pick one side or another. All this to say, Marriage Story is a masterpiece and deserves all of its praise and Oscar buzz.
*Marriage Story will be available on Netflix on December 6th
RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (BIG FAT 5 STARS)