Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda
It’s getting personal this awards season. Noah Baumbach is the latest filmmaker to project his own personal life story onto the big screen. Specifically his divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Baumbach might have just created one of the most imperative films about divorce ever committed to cinema. Marriage Story is about everything from falling in love, navigating marriage and the absurdity of tearing it apart. The screenplay certainly has more sympathy for Adam Driver’s character but by no means is one sided, hence the his/her posters and trailers. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is more soulful, Baumbach is very respectful and it’s the admiration they feel for each other during all phases of their relationship that’s most affective. It’s easily the best work to date for Baumbach, Driver and Johansson. The script, one of its many future Oscar nominations, is acutely focused, trimmed of excess and void of clichés.
“We are a New York family,” Charlie (Driver) keeps repeating, mostly for himself. Faced with divorce, Charlie and Nicole (Johansson) start out on an amicable transition, no lawyers, just therapy. When Nicole finally comes to the realization of why she can’t be with him anymore, her path forward becomes more clear. She hires a lawyer from Los Angeles (Dern), where she has relocated because of a new television pilot she is working on. They say their 8-year-old son Henry is priority, yet the divorce becomes more about New York versus Los Angeles, neither willing to compromise. “You were happy. You have just decided that you weren’t now,” he argues. Their lawyers lead them down a path that produces hatred and some of the most unimaginable dialogue between two people who once loved each other unconditionally.
The script, one of its many future Oscar nominations, is acutely focused, trimmed of excess and void of clichés.
The opening sequence is what you see in the two trailers. Two people verbalizing the most credible attributes about the other. Their complementary differences are why they fell in love to begin with. This beautiful scene is our introduction to these two expressive artists. Throughout the film Baumbach divides the perspective without retracing steps or even noting that shift. If you’re familiar with Baumbach’s style and others films like Mistress America or Greenberg, there was always a cold bitterness. Marriage Story is warm and stays with you long after the credits. It gets personal with the viewer, draws you in when you least expect it and I imaging everyone access a different entry point scene where you stop watching a movie, and begin feeling it’s emotional gravity.
What Adam Driver accomplishes in this role is nothing short of masterful. He sings, he’s evenly funny and emotional. A departure from the more introverted characters he’s built a career on. The BlackKklansman actor nearly bursts a vein in the climax scene where his character goes to a place that you hope to never find yourself. Driver gets the explosive moments and gives one of, if not the most devastating performance of the year in the last 30 minutes. Johnasson has more internal moments which is also something different for her having been stuck in action movies for the last decade. Dern is the obvious comic relief, setting the technical rules of divorce so the audience understands the game. Her look and demeanor is carbon copied from her Big Little Lies character. Hagerty is the other standout as Nicole’s kooky mom, so taken with her son-in-law she can’t help but cross the battle lines. Despite centering around a couple in the entertainment business going through the worst event in their lives, the antidotes Baumbach selects are universally relatable. Marriage Story is so real and alive that it’s simultaneously frightening; how could anyone want to get married with the circumstances so strikingly detailed here, a possible outcome. The ending will surprise you, no spoilers, but for a movie about divorce, it leaves the viewer with quite an unexpected feeling.
Adam Driver delivers a stirring performance with raw emotion that towers over everything else this season.