IMDB Synopsis: Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.
Plainly communicated, Marriage Story, is at its heart, a tale about a marriage. A marriage that is ending. And the unknown and complicated path that a family must take in figuring out how to proceed with their lives—both separately and together. Sparsely plotted, masterfully written and acted, and tinged with realism, Marriage Story will tear you down, and then build you back up.
The film centers on Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), a Brooklyn couple with an 8-year-old son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Charlie is a well-respected, McArthur Grant winning theater director, and Nicole is the lead actress—muse, at one point—in Charlie’s plays. The separation begins amiably enough; they agree to split without lawyers to do what’s best for Henry. Nicole soon relocates home to Los Angeles (with Henry) to shoot a tv pilot, while Charlie remains in New York to take his play to Broadway. It’s in LA that Nicole is pushed to hire the aggressive and very successful Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), a divorce lawyer who is ready to fight for Nicole. In response, Charlie first hires the bumbling Bert Spitz (Alan Alda) to represent him, but when it’s clear he’ll lose more than just money, he escalates and hires divorce shark Jay (Ray Liotta). You can’t go much further without spoiling, but luckily, Marriage Story isn’t about the narrative.
Marriage Story is less of a story about the divorce proceedings, and more about a union evolving (or devolving) over time. It’s about looking past one’s own needs. About being open and honest to yourself and your partner. About making sacrifices and accommodation. About personal growth. About saying things you can’t come back from. About the things left unsaid. About finding yourself again. About being angry. About being sad. About being wistful and hopeful. And about beginning a new chapter of life. About rebirth.
All of the aforementioned is brought to life by the co-leads. Adam Driver as Charlie is simply incredible. His domineering physical presence juxtaposes with his sophisticated idiosyncrasies. He’s so in tune with his character’s self-aggrandizement that his bewilderment vis-à-vis the divorce is palpable. He wavers between thoughtful, exasperated, and contempt beautifully. It’s the role of a lifetime being played by an actor who can heft the emotional weight. And Scarlett Johansson as Nicole is a more than capable foil to Charlie. She glows even as she breaks down. She switches between bold and shrunken. She’s independent and capable. The audience watches her become more self-assured and more honest and ultimately, happier.
With Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach has painted a masterfully realistic portrait of a family going through a seismic change. The director fills space with subtlety and fluidity. He creates realism equally through the bombastic eruptions and the mundane quiet moments. His script is believable and funny and calamitous. Critics will debate if it’s his best movie, but it’s certainly his most affecting film that’s bathed in realism.
Highlights: The apartment scene between Charlie and Nicole is fraught, tense, vulnerable, and worth the price of admission. Scarlett Johansson gives a wonderfully natural retelling of her story to Nora that highlights just how good she can be. Alan Alda is always wonderful.
MVP: It’s close, but it has to be Driver for all the reasons mentioned above.
Should you see it: Yes. 9/10.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Studio: Netflix // Original release date: December 6, 2019 (Netflix)