Marriage Story is an intimate and personal look at the machinations of a marriage coming apart. It illustrates the heartbreaking pain, emotions, and frustrations with the process, while also never painting its two main characters as villains. This is a beautifully well done character movie that not many people may find enjoyment with, however it features some of the best writing, directing, and acting I have seen from any film this year.
The film begins with a personal look at each character and what they love about one another. Charlie is a well renowned director with Nicole as his captivating lead actress. Each one has depended on one another for their successful careers and have done their best to build a good life for their son Henry. While the film opens with such a moving close up of their inner thoughts, it is sadly never conveyed to each other how they actually appreciate one another. It sets the precedence for both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanson of the expressions and emotions they have to wear on their faces as they go through the painful process.
The film illustrates a realistic approach to divorce without all the bombastic yelling and dramatic tensions that we see in bigger films these days. The performances are subtle and nuanced, and illustrate the couple as calm yet heartbroken people through this process. There is only one argument scene in the entire film, the rest of it features them on the verge of emotional breakdowns and the impossible task of trying to coexist for their son. This makes the film even more investing and emotional as it gears towards its climax and features some of the best acting I have seen this decade.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanson deliver some of the best performances of their career with each one’s character exemplifying their own strengths and flaws in marriage and parenting. Adam Driver has some of the best scenes in which unusual moments of catharsis feel heartbreaking and his “self-absorbed” nature can come across as both selfish yet understandable. Johanson on the other hand carries so much emotion on her face and actions that it is often sad to watch not knowing at which moment she will start to breakdown crying. There were so many moments in the movie where the camera fixates on her for a long take as she transitions from hopeful a parent to heartbroken wife. These are Oscar-worthy performances and if nothing else this film should be watched for an acting tour-de-force.
The way Noah Baumbach has directed this film is superb, and allows us to feel attached to our individual characters and their story. Baumbach features many long takes of characters in order to bring us into the moments of emotion they may be feeling. Whether it’s a simple walk around a home or an emotional retelling of a love story, each moment is shot with such deliberation that it engages the viewer into the lives of its characters.
The movie also never pitches one character as a villain over another. Both Charlie and Nicole are equally flawed people with their own set of desires for their lives. You can see how they are both a good and a horrible fit for one another but that doesn’t make them bad people. Each one handles parenting, conflict, and relationships in a different way and neither of them are inherently wrong at where they are coming from. It would be so easy for Baumbach to paint one character as a villain in the film, but its to his credit that each of the characters fulls truly extraordinary yet mutually flawed in their own right.
The film does get messy at times, particularly when the lawyers are brought in after both agreeing they would handle their matters on their own. You start to see how both Charlie and Nicole’s desired outcome becomes inherently twisted and warped in order to reach their own ambitions. The expressions they carry on their face illustrates so much, as both try to make things work but make the wrong moves to get there. All in all, it is a somber movie but an uplifting character piece that truly feels grounded and and personal.
Marriage Story may not be the most uplifting movie of 2019, but it certainly one of the more personal and moving ones. It features two great standout performances in both Johanson and Driver and the writing of their characters truly makes them feel alive. The story coveys just how nasty a divorce can be without all becoming too bombastic and features a brilliant scene that shows just how tragic things can get. I would certainly recommend this movie if you are an Oscar person, as this will undoubtedly be receiving a lot of buzz this January.