Noah Baumbach has been on the the preeminent voices in indie cinema for some time. He has previously tackled the subject of divorce in 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, but it is a topic he’s now returned to with Marriage Story.
Marriage Story opens with the two central characters, Nicole and Charlie, saying what it is they love about the other, all whilst set to shot of them with the child Henry. We then immediately see that the pair are in the early stages of getting a divorce. It is an opening that perfectly sets the tone for what Baumbach is trying to achieve with Marriage Story, it’s beautiful, it’s moving, and it’s funny.
The core focus of Nicole and Charlie’s divorce is where Henry is going to live, after Nicole moves home to Los Angeles to pursue an acting job, while Charlie remains at their former home in New York, where his play is moving to Broadway. The core theme of the film is how the divorce process ends up really affecting this family, despite the fact that originally it had started out smoothly, and neither parent is really focusing on what is best for Henry, rather what they want for him.
This all really comes to a head in one scene where the couple finally begin to lose it with one another in an attempt to talk things out away from the legal process. The pair of lead actors, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, really put their performances into overdrive. Both are incredible throughout the film, but this is one of the moments where they go to another level. Johansson and Driver give such grounded and vulnerable performances.
In contrast to Nicole and Charlie there is the pair of divorce lawyers that they hire to help with the proceedings. Laura Dern plays Nicole’s lawyer Nora, who continually has a friendly demeanor, but is clearly driven by wanting to ‘win’ in the divorce. Ray Liotta plays Charlie’s lawyer Jay, who is far more open about how horrible the process is, and that Charlie will hate him by the end.
Both are also excellent, but really this is Johansson, Driver, and Baumbach’s film. Baumbach’s script is obviously stunning and emotional, but his direction is fantastic as well. He creates such intimacy in the pair’s relationship and such an authentic and realistic feel in the film as a whole. He really helps draw you in. And this is all backed up by Randy Newman’s wonderful score to the film.
Marriage Story is truly one of the best films of the year, with two of the strongest performances. It packs such a powerful emotional punch, but will also build you up again once it destroys you. Baumbach’s script captures all of that, but also manages to be so real, and has the perfect amount of humour to balance some of the more heartbreaking moments. Marriage Story is an absolute triumph, and one you should absolutely watch when arrives on Netflix.