Marriage Story Review
Viewers of Marriage Story meet Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) on a positive. The film begins with a series of happy montages as they each describe what they love about one another and note the best intricate details of their personalities. Charlie describes Nicole as the 'perfect gift buyer' and someone who ‘really listens to people’, while Nicole admires Charlie for his love of being a dad, ‘even all the parts you’re supposed to hate like the crying and tantrums’. This heart-warming introduction to our two main characters comes to a halt when we realise the setting for this exercise – the two are at a marriage counselling session and are on the brink of separation. Writer and director Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories) cleverly captures the audience's interest during this first sequence, as viewers have already learnt to care about the two main characters - in preparation for the turmoil to follow.
We discover that Nicole and Charlie have been married for ten years and have an eight-year-old son named Henry (Azhy Robertson). The family live in New York City and Charlie is a director and owner of a small theatre company while Nicole is an actress who stars mainly in Charlie’s productions. After hitting some rocky ground, the two decide to separate and agree that once Nicole returns from shooting a TV pilot in L.A. (where she is from), the two will discuss the logistics of their divorce. However - although the couple previously decided to deal with things amicably -tensions rise when Nicole is recommended to speak to a feisty lawyer named Nora (Laura Dern), and decides she wants to permanently relocate to L.A. with Henry to continue her acting career and be closer to her mother and sister. Taken aback by Nicole’s change of heart and desperate to ensure Henry comes back to New York where his work commitments are and where he believes the family belongs, Charlie reluctantly hires his own lawyer Jay (Ray Liotta) and the two enter an emotionally gruelling divorce battle.
Why would anyone want to watch a film about a couple’s separation? Divorce is ugly. It’s traumatic. It’s mentally and financially draining. However, the breakdown of a marriage is unfortunately something that so many people and families have to go through, meaning Marriage Story is painfully relevant, and its honest exploration of a crumbling relationship, the difficulties of communication and how the deterioration of a marriage can affect so many people, is unbelievably accurate.
This film is clearly a deeply personal piece from Noah Baumbach, and this is evident in his direction of the cast – particularly Driver and Johansson as the two leads. Nicole and Charlie feel like deeply human characters and despite their differences and faults, we can sympathise with both of them and their opinions on their separation. You really believe that these characters have gone through the experiences detailed throughout the film and it feels as though they could be a family you know. Both Johansson and Driver show amazing range in their performances and perfectly express all the different feelings that could emerge from such a situation. From anger, frustration, despair and regret, to hope, love, happiness and forgiveness, it is a rollercoaster ride of palpable emotions from start to finish and Driver and Johansson communicate these through their characters amazingly well.
The film also has a fantastic supporting cast with brilliant performances from Merritt Wever (Unbelievable) and Julie Hagerty (Instant Family), Nicole’s sister Cassie and mother Sandra, as well as Laura Dern (Big Little Lies), who bring some great comic relief to the movie. Additionally, Martha Kelly (Baskets), who has a small appearance in the film in a brilliantly awkward scene with very little dialogue, manages to give a hilarious performance with just her posture and facial expressions.
Thankfully, the talented cast were supplied with an incredibly sharp, engaging script which allowed these characters to come to life. Frequent interjections of humour are well placed and appropriate, providing a much-needed release from the heavier scenes. The dialogue is extremely well-written, and the tone of the conversations feel completely natural, making the characters feel real and relatable. One particular scene where Nicole and Charlie can no longer withhold their feelings and come to blows, contains some of the best dialogue from a film in recent years and perfectly captures the couple’s bitterness towards one another as well as their love.
The cinematography in Marriage Story, which was directed by Robbie Ryan (director of cinematography for The Favourite and I, Daniel Blake), is cleverly adapted to convey the desired tone across different points throughout the story. By starting out with bright, happy lighting and soft, warm shots, the film draws people in before introducing grey, dark, depressing tones in scenes of a serious nature. The movie also contains some very well-choreographed sequences which creates an ideal sense of flow and enables scenes to weave together without feeling choppy. Despite the uncomfortable and ugly subject matter, the film is stunningly beautiful throughout - which is a highly commendable feat.
Accompanied by a wonderfully fitting score by Randy Newman (Toy Story), Marriage Story is arguably one of the most well-made films of 2019. The flawless performances from the cast and the strong screenplay from Noah Baumbach are close to perfect, providing one of the most honest, emotional and interesting depictions of divorce in recent times.
Marriage Story will be streaming on Netflix from December 6th 2019 after a limited cinema release from 15th November